Dartmouth College will pay $14 million to a group of nine current and former female students in the Department of Psychological and Brain Science. The joint settlement, which is pending court approval, will settle a lawsuit brought by the students who alleged that they were routinely subjected to sexual harassment by staff members.
The lawsuit was filed in November 2018, and the plaintiffs initially sought $70 million in damages from the school for Title IX violations. The suit claimed that the university failed in its duty to protect students from sexual harassment. The plaintiffs claim that the Department had a pervasive toxic culture in which female students were subjected to rape and sexual harassment. The victims detailed a range of disturbing incidents in their claim, ranging from a male professor forcing a female student to have sex with him against her will to another professor sending a female student an unwanted photo of his erect penis. According to the lawsuit, the victims felt pressured to participate without complaint or risk their careers as the men controlled resources in their labs.
The plaintiffs claim Dartmouth was aware of the behavior for more than 16 years and did nothing to stop it. Then in 2017, at least 27 people came forward in connection with formal claims of alleged sexual assault and sexual harassment by the three professors. A group of women reported the claims to the Dartmouth's Title IX office. However, during the Title IX investigation, the college failed to provide the plaintiffs with support, accommodations, or guidance. Ultimately, according to the claim, Dartmouth "unilaterally terminated" the disciplinary process, allowing one of the named professors to retire and two others resign without seeking input from the complainants.
These students were able to take advantage of the protections of Title IX, which apply to universities receiving federal funding. However, as we've seen over the past few years, sexual assault and sexual harassment in the workplace are pervasive issues that affect all industries. It can be incredibly difficult for victims of workplace sexual assault and sexual harassment to come forward. Often there are not adequate policies in place to protect the victim. Other times, the perpetrator of the abuse is in a position of power over the victim and victims might fear that coming forward could damage their career or livelihood.
In addition to the financial compensation which will be awarded to the victims, the settlement between Dartmouth and the plaintiffs will include college-funded efforts to prevent similar misconduct in the future. The plaintiffs stated, “We are satisfied to have reached an agreement with Dartmouth College, and are encouraged by our humble contribution to bringing restorative justice to a body of Dartmouth students beyond the named plaintiffs... Together with Dartmouth, we plan to continue addressing the systemic roots of power-based personal violence and gender-based discrimination across all levels of severity so that our experiences — and those of the class we represent — are never repeated.”