Another lawsuit has been filed in a three-year dispute about alleged sexual assault involving a Northwestern University professor, as a female graduate student has accused publishing house HarperCollins and an author of embarrassing her by exposing private details to make the professor she accused of sexual assault a sympathetic figure.
In a complaint filed May 16 in Chicago federal court, a plaintiff identified only as Jane Doe accused HarperCollins Publishers LLC and author Laura Kipnis of publicly disclosing private information, invasion of privacy, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The book in question, “Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus” critiques the Title IX process colleges and universities use to investigate sexual discrimination complaints. In her complaint, Doe accused Kipnis of giving “significant prominence to sexual assault and sexual harassment allegations made by two Northwestern students against her friend and colleague — former Northwestern philosophy professor, Peter Ludlow.”
Still an NU doctoral student in philosophy, Doe said the book, which was covered on the front page of the New York Times, falsely reframes Ludlow “as the victim of malicious female students” and “gratuitously discloses private and embarrassing details” about Doe’s personal life.
The student first sued NU in federal court in February 2014, claiming it did not do enough following the filing of a formal sexual assault complaint against Ludlow. She also filed a complaint in state court that month, reiterating her claims Ludlow allegedly got her drunk after an off-campus art event in February 2012 — she was 25 at the time — then allegedly made unwelcome sexual advances and brought her back to his apartment, where she woke up the next day in his arms. Ludlow filed a defamation case against the student in 2014, and attempted to sue media outlets for their reporting on the allegations.
In her recent complaint, Doe asserts she only reported Ludlow’s alleged “conduct after she learned of other allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct with students.” The book, she continued, upended her personal life and career prospects.
Doe also noted Kipnis’ articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education — one in which she referenced Ludlow’s Title IX hearing, and a second in which she expressed outrage about being named in her own Title IX complaints stemming from the first. That, Doe said, gave rise to the book, released April 4, 2017. While Doe said she has no objection to a book on the topic of Title IX investigations, she said Kipnis’ book “needlessly devotes an entire chapter” to her relationship with Ludlow, assigning her “a thinly designed pseudonym.”
“That chapter contains wholly gratuitous private facts about (Doe’s) personal life,” the complaint stated, “facts never before publicized, and facts (Doe) did not want publicized.” These include private text messages, which Doe said were “printed out of context and written about in a misleading manner” as well as investigation records the university was obligated to seal under federal law.
Doe said Kipnis knew her writing violated privacy, but quoted her as gloating: ““I mean, having been hauled up on complaints once, what do I have to lose? ‘Confidentiality’? ‘Conduct befitting a professor’? Kiss my ass.”
For its part, Doe said HarperCollins “did not adequately investigate the truthfulness of Kipnis’ statements,” calling the Title IX complaints against Kipnis “a clear motive to retaliate.” Doe also said continued promotion of the book exacerbates her suffering, noting “the wide reach of defendants’ smear campaign against plaintiff, and its permanence (a published book, along with news articles, blogs, and other Internet commentary that will forever and inexorably remain available to all), contribute further to the extreme and outrageous nature of defendants’ conduct.”
In addition to a jury trial, Doe seeks compensatory and punitive damages of at least $75,000.
Representing Doe in the matter are Salvatore Prescott & Porter, with offices in Evanston and Northville, Mich.