Two former students join class-action lawsuit against Dartmouth 

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/2/2019 2:09:45 PM
Modified: 5/2/2019 10:12:55 PM

HANOVER — Two more former students have joined a $70 million class-action lawsuit against Dartmouth College, adding to allegations that the college failed to respond adequately to complaints of sexual misconduct by three professors in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.

The new plaintiffs in the amended lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Concord on Wednesday, are a Dartmouth undergraduate from 2008 to 2012 who is identified as “Jane Doe 2” and a graduate and post-doctoral fellow at Dartmouth between 2003 and 2009 who is identified as “Jane Doe 3.”

The women’s allegations add to those of the other seven plaintiffs included in the original suit filed in November, which claims that college administrators turned a blind eye to sexual harassment and assault for more than 16 years, despite knowing about the professors’ behavior, which the plaintiffs allege included buying them drinks, discussing sexual preferences in professional settings, engaging in unwanted sexual relationships and threatening their professional careers when the women ended those relationships or failed to respond to their advances.

Both of the new plaintiffs have filed court motions seeking anonymity “due to the sensitive nature of the acts perpetrated upon them and to mitigate against additional extreme emotional distress that would result in publicly identifying them.”

Jane Doe 2 asserts that then-professor Paul Whalen sexually assaulted her and “engaged in nonconsensual intercourse” in November 2012 following a night of drinking that caused Jane Doe 2 to become “intoxicated to the point of losing her memory” and after she had asked Whalen to leave her apartment. She recently had graduated from Dartmouth and was working as a research assistant in then-professor Todd Heatherton’s lab, according to the lawsuit.

She alleges that in subsequent months Whalen continued to initiate sexual activity with her “often in an aggressive manner that made Jane Doe 2 feel unsafe.”

Jane Doe 3 asserts that then-professor Bill Kelley “would often condition his assistance” in her research work on meeting at a bar for a drink, and that he “coerced her into an ongoing sexual relationship.”

When she ended it, Kelley said, “Good luck getting your Ph.D. now,” according to the lawsuit.

She says in the lawsuit that Kelley, Whalen and Heatherton “all made demeaning and sexual comments about women in their labs.”

The amended lawsuit alleges that Heatherton contacted Jane Doe 2 and Kelley contacted Jane Doe 3 during internal Dartmouth Title IX investigations.

Jane Doe 3 also says the department’s current chairman, David Bucci, contacted her during the investigations and that he “acknowledged that he had always been aware of ‘rumors’ concerning Jane Doe 3’s relationship with Kelley.”

Neither of the two new plaintiffs participated in the college’s Title IX investigations because they questioned its confidentiality and feared retaliation by the professors, the amended lawsuit said.

Bucci said he had not seen the amended complaint and declined to comment in an email on Thursday.

Heatherton, Kelley and Whalen all left Dartmouth last summer, either retiring or resigning before the college could fire them following internal investigations that resulted in recommendations that they be terminated.

Whalen and Kelley could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Heatherton’s attorney Julie Moore, in a statement, said, “Heatherton and Jane Doe 2 always had appropriate and mutually-respectful interactions” and that Heatherton denies “playing any role in creating a toxic environment.”

“He is extremely concerned about being grouped together with the other professors, as he did not engage in the general patterns of conduct of which they are accused.”

In the statement, he said he would have intervened had he witnessed any “inappropriate behavior” and that Jane Doe 2 wrote a note thanking him for his support during her time at Dartmouth.

Dartmouth spokeswoman Diana Lawrence, in an emailed statement on Thursday, said the college commends “the bravery of the individuals who have stepped forward to expose misconduct by three former faculty members” and “we deeply regret that any student experienced or was exposed to such conduct at Dartmouth.”

The college stands by its “independent and thorough Title IX investigations” that identified “reprehensible behavior” on the part of the now-former professors, Lawrence said.

Because the new plaintiffs did not participate in the Title IX investigations, Lawrence said the college is now investigating the allegations they have raised.

“It is critically important that community members feel confident that they can report misconduct, that their voices will be heard, and that Dartmouth will take immediate and meaningful action, at the same time ensuring a fair process that protects complainants against retaliation of any kind,” she said.

Diana Whitney, a 1995 Dartmouth graduate and member of a group called the Dartmouth Community Against Gender Harassment & Sexual Violence, said in an email that she was “appalled by the new allegations.”

The group, comprising dozens of alumni, graduate students and undergraduates who seek to end gender-based harassment and violence on campus, has said it supports the plaintiffs in the suit. Whitney on Thursday said she was glad to see the group’s open letter to college officials, submitted last December and signed by 800 college community members, now is recognized in the amended suit.

“I’m heartened and humbled that our group’s advocacy work has reached the plaintiffs and shown them how many people stand with them in opposing the institutional culture that facilitates sexual violence,” Whitney said.

A criminal investigation into the professors’ actions, launched by the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office in October 2017, remains ongoing, Deputy Attorney General Jane Young said in an email on Thursday.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews. com or 603-727-3213.

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