Dartmouth Agrees to Settle Sexual Misconduct Claims for $14 Million

 

August 7, 2019
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Dartmouth College will pay $14 million to settle gender discrimination and sexual misconduct class-action claims brought by nine female students.

The plaintiffs—most of whom were in the doctoral program in Dartmouth's psychology department—filed a lawsuit in 2018 alleging that officials of the New Hampshire school didn't take appropriate measures to address sexual harassment, misconduct and sexual assault by three tenured professors.

In addition to the monetary award, the school agreed to fund a program "to identify and rectify current problems and prevent future issues," according to a joint statement by the parties.

"Providing a safe, secure, and supportive environment is critical to our educational objectives," said Dartmouth Provost Joseph Helble. "These current and former students not only brought to light the completely unacceptable behavior of these three individuals in one department, but … also led to our launching … initiatives to address issues of sexual misconduct and power imbalances here, and we hope over time on other campuses as well."

Steven Kelly, an attorney with Sanford Heisler Sharp who represented the plaintiffs, said, "We are honored to represent the current and former Dartmouth students and the class they represent in bringing meaningful systemic change to one of this nation's leading institutions of higher education."

The court still must approve the settlement.

Students Said Professors' Sexual Misconduct Affected Careers

The plaintiffs alleged in their class-action complaint that male professors hired lab assistants based on their looks and competed to have the "hottest lab." The plaintiffs also alleged that the professors held lab meetings at bars, invited students to "hot-tub parties" at their homes and encouraged students to use cocaine during classes on addiction to demonstrate the effects of the drug. Dartmouth President Philip Hanlon said school officials "applaud the courage" of the students who brought the misconduct to their attention. At the time the complaint was filed, he said the school was open to "a fair resolution" of the claims through an alternative dispute resolution process such as arbitration or mediation rather than through a lawsuit in court.

(SHRM Online)

Alumni Group Wants School to Go Further

School officials praised the women who came forward, but an alumni group called Dartmouth's settlement statement "self-serving" and "publicity driven." The alumni group asked, "What was broken in the system that allowed this abuse to develop, go unchecked and worsen over time?" The three accused professors retired or resigned after the college moved to revoke their tenure, though they won't face financial liability under the settlement agreement.

(The New York Times)

[SHRM members-only sample policy: Anti-Harassment Policy and Complaint Procedure]

Beyond Harassment 101: Opening Culture-Change Discussions with Your Team

Sexual harassment remains a problem in many workplaces despite years of mandatory training for supervisors to prevent it. Getting in front of the problem in the truest sense requires raising accountability and an awareness of inclusion and respect in the workplace.

(SHRM Online)

Treating the #MeToo Movement as an Opportunity to Create Better Workplaces

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, many states have strengthened their anti-discrimination laws and developed more-robust workplace sexual-harassment-prevention training requirements. HR professionals and organizational leaders should treat the eruption of such mandates as an opportunity—not an obligation.

(SHRM Online)

Quiz: Is It Sexual Harassment?

Test your knowledge about which behaviors warrant investigation by HR—and possibly the EEOC.

(SHRM Online)

 

[Visit SHRM's resource page on workplace harassment.]


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