Professor sues Northwestern, claims ‘flawed’ sexual harassment investigation

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A Northwestern University professor accused of making unwanted advances to a student is suing the school, claiming it conducted a flawed internal investigation and misled the media.

Peter Ludlow, a tenured professor at the Evanston university, filed the federal lawsuit Wednesday in U.S. District Court, accusing Northwestern and several administrators of gender discrimination and defamation.

In February 2012, an undergraduate student filed an internal complaint against Ludlow, claiming he sexually assaulted her after they attended an art event together in Chicago.

Northwestern’s director of sexual harassment prevention, Joan Slavin, began investigating the complaints and the university eventually found the student’s claims credible, according to the lawsuit.

Slavin—who is named as a defendant in Ludlow’s lawsuit—conducted a “flawed and one-sided” investigation into the student’s allegations, the suit claims.

Ludlow denied the sexual harassment and assault allegations, and Slavin found the student “was not credible in some of her accusations and found her testimony on at least one point ‘fuzzy’,” the suit claims. Yet Slavin still ruled in the student’s favor.

That student eventually filed federal lawsuits against Northwestern, claiming the school mishandled her allegations; and against Ludlow, claiming civil rights violations, earlier this year.

The lawsuits received an abundance of coverage in the media and “out of fear of further media attention,” Ludlow claims in the suit he asked Northwestern not to divulge any disciplinary actions or details about the “mutual” decision to cancel his classes for the spring quarter.

But, according to the suit, Alan Cubbage, vice president of university relations; and Morton Schapiro, president of the school, “made a number of false statements to students and several media entities regarding the decision.”

Cubbage and Schapiro are also named as defendants in the lawsuit. In a statement, Cubbage said the school would not comment on the latest suit.

It was after this that another professor began advocating for Ludlow’s termination, and encouraged a graduate student, with whom Ludlow had had a “consensual” sexual relationship, to also file a complaint against him, according to the lawsuit.

Ludlow admits in the suit he and the graduate student had a relationship from about October 2011 to January 2012, but claims Northwestern did not prohibit romantic relationships between professors and grad students at that time, so long as the professor did not have evaluative authority over the student. Ludlow, according to the suit, did not supervise the student’s work or assess her grades.

In March 2014, the professor filed the complaint against Ludlow on behalf of the graduate student, and the university brought in a third-party investigator, according to the suit.

The investigator ultimately found “insufficient evidence to support” the grad student’s allegations of non-consensual sex, but nevertheless concluded the relationship constituted sexual harassment because Ludlow had unequal power in the relationship, according to the suit.

Ludlow claims in the suit he alerted Northwestern to the “flawed and legally unsupported nature” of that investigation, and asked that the report not be distributed, but it was. The professor and the graduate student are also listed as defendants in the suit.

The six-count suit claims gender discrimination, defamation, false invasion of privacy and civil conspiracy. Ludlow is seeking an unspecified amount in damages.

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