Two former students claim that the City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice—through four professors—created a “cesspool” of sexual harassment and illegal drug use in an area of campus they termed “The Swamp.”
Claudia Cojocaru, 40, and Naomi Haber, 25, allege the male instructors “used their positions of trust” to “prey upon female students’ vulnerabilities and manipulate them to satiate their own sexual desires” between 2014 and 2018, according to a lawsuit filed Monday.
The women claim they were “subjected to egregious sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, and sexual assault at the hands of several professors while they were undergraduate students” and that those teachers used a suite of offices in John Jay’s Annex Building they nicknamed “The Swamp” to degrade and dehumanize female students and colleagues, including bragging about sexual conquests with them.
According to the suit, one of the professors there allegedly boasted that he “fucked [another student] so hard that she vomited.”
Among the most egregious allegations in the 68-page suit: Haber accuses Anthropology Prof. Anthony Marcus of raping her in a hotel room while they attended a conference in Washington, D.C. in 2015; Cojocaru accuses Prof. Ric Curtis of sexually assaulting her that summer.
“When I enrolled in John Jay, I expected nothing short of a safe environment to learn and grow in,” Haber told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “I was shocked and completely unprepared for the vile sexual misconduct that my professors engaged in against me.”
Cojocaru expressed the same dismay, noting that she was “devastated” to find “that a college that purportedly emphasizes criminal and social justice and equality would handle my complaints of sexual misconduct so poorly.”
“It is unacceptable for John Jay, which holds itself out as an ‘advocate for justice,’ to allow such egregious misconduct to go on for years,” Cojocaru told The Daily Beast.
“We decided to sue because we felt like we had no choice,” Cojocaru said, adding that her recovery from the misconduct at John Jay has been “a long and arduous process that will plague us for the rest of our lives.”
“By coming forward and sharing our experiences, we hope that the healing process can finally begin,” she added.
The federal lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, seeks unspecified damages for gender discrimination and retaliation.
Sexual-misconduct allegations against the professors at John Jay first surfaced in September, when the New York Post reported that three of the men named in the new lawsuit—Curtis, Marcus, and Barry Spunt—were under investigation for sexual-harassment allegations. The Post reported that Curtis, the former chairman of the anthropology and sociology departments, spearheaded a “lurid, drug-abusing culture” in “The Swamp.” After the Post’s report, the school opened an internal investigation into the complaints. Last month, John Jay President Karol Mason announced she was moving to terminate the three men based on the results of that investigation.
Monday’s lawsuit also targets a fourth man—a former adjunct professor named Leonardo Dominguez, who allegedly groped Haber without her consent in “The Swamp,” including one incident in which Dominquez allegedly slipped his hands under her shirt and another when, according to the suit, he reached into her pants “to see what underwear she was wearing.”
Dominguez at one point told her he wanted to “feel [her] warm vagina,” according to the complaint.
The professors, according to the lawsuit, would openly use illegal drugs in “The Swamp” and “thrust these substances upon students” in order to get them to “let their guard down.”
John Jay’s investigation into the misconduct was concluded last month, but Monday’s lawsuit described the probe as “biased” and “improper.” According to a statement from David Gottlieb, the women’s lawyer, the probe included “demonstrable bias by the investigators, discouraging our clients from seeking legal representation, dragging out the investigation for more than a year and ignoring our clients’ complaints regarding the investigation and the investigators.”
“John Jay has repeatedly misrepresented to the community that the investigation was being conducted in a thorough and fair manner,” said Gottlieb. “Nonetheless, ultimately, numerous allegations of sexual misconduct were recently found to be substantiated by the investigation.”
“John Jay must provide its students and faculty with an environment that is free from any form of sexual violence—period,” he added.
John Jay spokesman Richard Relkin said in a statement to The Daily Beast that the college will “promptly, thoroughly, and fairly investigate any allegations of misconduct and hold accountable anyone—without exception—who is found to violate our policies.”
Curtis’ lawyer, Robert Herbst, told The Daily Beast on Tuesday that the “false allegations” made by Cojocaru and Haber were already found to be “not credible” by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, as Vance has not charged Curtis. John Jay announced last month that Vance had concluded the separate criminal investigation into the allegations and informed the college that he decided not to bring any criminal charges.
Herbst also claimed that Curtis was “cleared” by the investigation at John Jay. (John Jay, however, said last month that “the professors and adjunct lecturer engaged in unprofessional conduct that is absolutely unacceptable” and that “violated specific CUNY policies.”)
The investigators, according to Herbst, found “no sexual violence, no rape, no attempted rape, no sexual assault, no drug incapacitation, no forcible or unwelcome touching, no fondling, no consensual sex, no groin rubbing against their private parts, no back massage, no back rubs, no electrocution machine or suction cups on thighs or lower back, no unwelcome sexual advances, no foot massages, no drug-dealing or leading a cult either, and no retaliatory conduct.”
Marcus told the Post he is “not talking to the press”; Dominguez’s lawyer, Carmen Jack Giordano, is reported to have told the newspaper that the professor “provided irrefutable evidence of the falsity of Ms. Haber’s allegations.”
Giordano, who also represents Spunt, has said the school was “bowing to political pressure and expedience, rather than being guided by fairness and truth” and that the professor was “looking forward to finally having a full hearing on [the] allegations made against him.”
All of the men have denied the allegations against them.