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Northwestern sued by student claiming sexual assault by professor

Updated: February 11, 2014 2:10PM

A student at Northwestern University filed a federal lawsuit against the school Monday, alleging that university officials acted with “deliberate indifference and retaliation” after she reported that a professor sexually assaulted her during her freshman year.

The plaintiff, now a junior in Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, claims that a tenured professor at the Evanston university sexually assaulted her in February 2012 after they attended an art event together in Chicago, the suit said. The university eventually found the student’s claims credible, but have never disclosed to her how they disciplined the professor, she says.

“We don’t comment on pending litigation, but the University has policies and procedures in place to protect our students and to address any such reported concerns,” said Northwestern spokesman Bob Rowley Monday in response to the lawsuit.

The student claims the situation ultimately led her to attempt suicide, and that she was later diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, she claims in the suit filed Monday in U.S. District Court.

According to the suit, the student told the professor of a philosophy class she took the previous semester about an art event that related to his field of study. The professor asked her to join him, and they met at the professor’s office and drove to the event together.

That night, the professor “insisted strongly” that the student drink with him at several bars and later at his apartment, even though she was underage. She repeatedly asked him to take her back to the Evanston campus, and said she felt uncomfortable and wanted to leave, according to the suit.

At the time, she was “too intoxicated to put up any meaningful resistance to [the professor’s] unwelcome advances,” she claims in the suit.

The student blacked out, then later regained consciousness in an elevator to the professor’s apartment, where he was “furiously makng out with” her. She “begged [him] to stop, but he told her it was “inevitable” that they would have sex, the suit claims.

She lost consciousness again and later woke up in the professor’s bed with his arms around her, the suit claims.

The next day, the student told a different faculty member what happened, then confronted the professor who “begged [her] not to tell anyone and told her that he could mentor her academically or pay her money,” the suit stated.

Northwestern’s Director of Sexual Harassment Prevention, Joan Slavin, was made aware that the student had complained about the professor’s conduct and began investigating, the suit stated.

Two days after the art event, the student tried to kill herself “as a result of the stress and trauma of the events with [the professor],” the suit stated. She was diagnosed with PTSD and released from the hospital four days later.

Two months later, Slavin emailed the student, telling her that the university concluded the professor “engaged in unwelcome and inappropriate sexual advances” toward her. The director went on to say that the student was “incapacitated due to the heavy consumption of alcohol” purchased for her by the professor.

According to the suit, the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Office was made aware of Slavin’s findings, saying they would work with that office on “implementing needed corrective and remedial actions,” the suit stated.

A committee established to decide what kind of disciplinary action should be taken against the professor determined he should be terminated, but “Northwestern ignored its own committee’s decision and recommendation and continues to employ [him] as a professor,” the suit claims.

The student claims Northwestern has never shared details with her or her attorneys about disciplinary measures taken against the professor, citing the situation’s “confidential personnel nature.”

The professor remained on campus and the student ran into him several times, bringing on anxiety that rendered her unable to leave her home, she claims.

Her anxiety became so severe that it interfered with her coursework. She withdrew from most of her classes and canceled a study abroad program in order to continue with her psychological treatment, the suit said. She also registered for a disability service so that she does not need to explain her absences.

The suit did not specify where the alleged attack occurred, nor did it mention any criminal investigation by a police department.

According to Northwestern’s website, the professor who allegedly assaulted the woman is still employed at the university.

The lawsuit blames Northwestern for “deliberate indifference and retaliation” in handling her case, alleging its actions violated Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972.

The student is seeking an unspecified amount in damages for medical bills, tuition reimbursement, emotional distress and attorney’s fees.

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