For almost two decades, three prominent professors at Dartmouth College turned the human-behavior research department into “a 21st century Animal House,” and have “leered at, groped, sexted, intoxicated and even raped female students,” seven current and former students alleged in a class-action lawsuit filed Thursday.
Filed in federal court in New Hampshire, the $70-million lawsuit claimed dozens of women were sexually harassed, assaulted, and discriminated by three former tenured professors—Todd Heatherton, William Kelley and Paul Whalen.
These professors “perpetuated an alcohol-saturated ‘party culture’” by conducting lab meetings at bars, inviting students to “hot tub parties” at their homes, and “invited undergraduate students to use real cocaine during classes related to addiction as part of a ‘demonstration,’” the complaint stated.
“I lose sleep at night thinking of all of the discoveries in science that haven’t been made because women were driven out,” one of the accusers, Sasha Brietzke, said in a Thursday interview with CBS This Morning.
Brietzke alleges that while at a karaoke event, Heatherton called her over and drunkedly groped her butt before pulling her onto his lap and asking her what she was doing later that night, the lawsuit claimed.
“This is my introduction to the scientific community, and now I’m a sexual object,” she said.
The women who filed with Brietzsky—Annemarie Brown, VassikiChauhan, Andrea Courtney, Marissa Evans, Kristina Rapuano and an anonymous plaintiff identified as Jane Doe—claimed they brought six claims against the college, reporting the behavior as far back as 2002.
But college officials ignored their countless complaints, the lawsuit claimed.
“Dartmouth’s conduct was wanton, malicious, outrageous, and conducted with full knowledge of the law,” read the lawsuit. “Dartmouth exhibited reckless indifference to the foreseeable risks of harm.”
The suit also detailed how the three men used their power in the department to freely objectify their female students by commenting on their appearance, including one game that Kelly created to publicly rank the women on what he called a “Papi” scale. The scale began at zero which equated to “would never bang,” the suit explained.
“These men had all of the power in the department,” Andrea Courtney said in the same CBS interview. “They controlled all of the resources. Opting out of the boys club culture meant that you were cut off from those resources.”
Kristina Rapuano alleged that Professor Kelley began harassing her in 2015, first by encouraging her to be his drinking buddy, often holding his academic support hostage until she compiled, according to the lawsuit.
In March 2015, Kelley allegedly raped her during a conference on cognitive neuroscience in San Francisco, after a night of drinking at the professor's insistence.
When she woke up in a daze the next morning and did not remember what had happened, the suit claimed, Kelley said they had sex, threatening professional retribution if she resisted.
“The way that he operated was he pushed the limits on drinking, doing things that were starting to tear down these professional boundaries,” said Rapuano, now 30 years old. “Once that boundary is taken down, it’s really hard to re-establish, or I would say impossible.”
Rapuano also alleged that Whalen inappropriately touched her in 2014 in his office, though she rejected his advances.
Two years after her assault, Rapuano joined a group of students to report sexual misconduct against the professor, but the college only told them to continue working with their harassers for four more months before any action was taken.
During that time, Whalen “engage[d] in non consensual intercourse” with another one of the women, Vassiki Chauhan, the complaint said.
“I tried to get out of the situation as soon as possible. It was only when he started reaching for more intimate parts of my body that I was unambiguous about the fact that this is not something I wanted,” Chauhan said in the CBS interview while detailing her alleged assault at Whalen’s home last April.
Kelley’s attorney declined to comment, and Whalen’s attorneys did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast request for comment.
Heatherton’s attorney, Julie Moore, said her client has not seen the lawsuit brought against his former employer and denied his participation in an “Animal House” party culture.
“He repeats that he did not regularly socialize with graduate students and has never had any sexual relationship whatsoever with any student,” Moore said to The Daily Beast on Thursday, adding her client had no knowledge of any student being sexually assaulted.
The suit came after the New Hampshire Ivy League university opened their own sexual-misconduct investigation last October into the three male professors, who were tenured in the school’s psychology and brain sciences department.
The first of many sexual-assault allegations against Dartmouth professors, the investigation finally came after groups of former and current students claimed the professors created a hostile work environment and often blurred the line between professional and personal relationships was blurred.
The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office has also been investigating the allegations, a spokesperson confirmed to The Daily Beast.
“Sexual misconduct and harassment have no place at Dartmouth,” Dartmouth College president Philip J. Hanlon said in a statement obtained by The Daily Beast. “However, we respectfully, but strongly, disagree with the characterizations of Dartmouth’s actions in the complaint and will respond through our own court filings.”
The college, whose former students wrote the party-themed movie “Animal House,” was preparing to terminate the employment of all three PBS faculty members based on the results of the investigations, a spokesperson for Dartmouth told The Daily Beast.
But the men retired or resigned before the school was able to do so.
“As a result of the misconduct we found earlier this year by the three PBS faculty members, we took unprecedented steps toward revoking their tenure and terminating their employment,” Hanlon said. “They are no longer at Dartmouth and remain banned from our campus and from attending all Dartmouth-sponsored events, no matter where the events are held.”
Steven Kelly, the attorney for filed the suit, says this lawsuit is meant to right the college’s wrongs, uniting accomplished female scientists together seeking justice in the process.
“What stands out even more than the appalling way tenured Ivy League professors acted is the incredible courage their victims have demonstrated. In more than 15 years of litigating sexual assault cases, I have never seen a group of survivors unite to seek justice and bring about change as these victims have done," Steven Kelly, the attorney for filed the suit, told The Daily Beast on Thursday.