Dartmouth settles lawsuit over sexual misconduct allegations against former professors
Dartmouth College announced Tuesday that it has settled a contentious federal lawsuit with nine women who sued the school over allegations that it ignored years of harassment and assault by former psychology department professors. In a statement Tuesday, both sides said the settlement includes $14 million for students who can prove they suffered abuse and can meet other conditions defined in the class action lawsuit, as well as several initiatives by the college "to rectify current problems and prevent future issues."
"These current and former students not only brought to light the completely unacceptable behavior of these three individuals in one department, but, through their courage, also led to our launching — and now with their help, expanding — initiatives to address issues of sexual misconduct and power imbalances here, and we hope over time on other campuses as well," Dartmouth Provost Joseph Helble, who participated in three days of discussions with the women, said in a statement. The settlement is still subject to approval by a U.S. District Court judge in Concord.
In their lawsuit the women, who were graduates or undergraduates at the college, alleged that professors William Kelley, Paul Whalen and Todd Heatherton harassed and touched women inappropriately, often while out partying at bars or at their homes where one hosted hot tub parties. Kelley and Whalen are each accused of assaulting a student after a night of drinking, attempting to seduce women under their supervision and punishing those who rebuffed their advances in the Department of Psychological and Brain Science.
Some of the plaintiffs spoke to CBS News last year. Kristina Rapuano said while attending a conference in California in 2015 she was raped by Kelley, who had taken her under his wing.
"Essentially, I have no memory of this night," Rapuano told CBS News. "I didn't even remember waking up. I had thought that I had just been drinking heavily. Now I'm unsure."
According to Rapuano, Kelley told her they had sex. She had no memory of it. "But I was very clear about how I didn't want that to ever happen again," she said.
Vassiki Chauhan told CBS News she was raped in April 2018 at Whalen's home. "I tried to get out of the situation as soon as possible," she said. "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."
In a statement, the plaintiffs, three of whom were anonymous, said, "We are satisfied to have reached an agreement with Dartmouth College, and are encouraged by our humble contribution to bringing restorative justice to a body of Dartmouth students beyond the named plaintiffs. We remain committed to bringing survivor perspectives and community voices to the forefront of the conversation surrounding campus climate."
Dartmouth said it was unaware of the allegations until it was alerted by scores of female students. In October 2017, Dartmouth launched an investigation into the three professors.
It never released the findings and was preparing to fire all three. Heatherton retired and the two other professors resigned.
Whalen and Kelley could not be reached for comment, and it is unclear if they have attorneys. Heatherton has apologized for acting inappropriately at conferences but said, through a lawyer, that he never socialized or had sexual relations with students.
He also said he wasn't aware of the behavior of the two others and would not have condoned it. The allegations in the lawsuit sparked a heated debate at Dartmouth and prompted dozens of alumni to demand greater transparency and accountability in the way the school handles sexual abuse claims.
Some were demanding the resignation of the college president while others called for withholding donations. The school responded this year with a range of promised reforms including an outside review of all academic departments, a revisal of its sexual misconduct policy and other measures meant to create an environment free from "the abuse of power."
President Philip Hanlon also said the college plans to create a single sexual misconduct policy and include processes for dealing with violations. It also will start mandatory training on the federal law barring gender discrimination, put more resources into mental health and more.
"Providing a safe, secure, and supportive environment is critical to our educational objectives; and, with the help of these strong and creative women, we will get there," Helble said in response to the settlement.
Jericka Duncan contributed to this report.
for more features.