Cook County Record

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Judge sides with Northwestern in student's lawsuit stemming from alleged sexual assault

By Jonathan Bilyk | Nov 18, 2014

A Northwestern University student will not be allowed to press forward with her Title IX claim against the school, after a federal judge determined the university should not be held liable for the sexual assault and harassment the student alleges she suffered at the hands of one of her professors.

U.S. District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber last week granted a motion brought by Northwestern University asking for a judgment on the pleadings in the case brought by the female student, saying her argument “flies in the face of Supreme Court precedent” as the law does not entitle the victim of harassment to specify the punishment of the offender.

The ruling stems from lawsuits the female undergraduate student brought in February against the university and Northwestern philosophy professor Peter Ludlow. The Cook County Record is not identifying the student in this story because it does not publish the names of alleged sexual assault victims.

The student has alleged Ludlow got her drunk following an art event off campus in 2012 and then took her back to his apartment off campus, where she claims he sexually assaulted her, based on her recollections of the evening preceding the morning on which she awoke in his bed, with his arms around her.

She sued Ludlow in Cook County Circuit Court and the university in federal court, claiming the university, by allowing Ludlow to keep his job and remain on campus, did not do enough to address her allegations. She further accused the university of retaliating against her for bringing the action, after she failed to secure a fellowship, had trouble registering for a key class and was denied a refund for a study abroad program out of which she dropped, among other actions.

Ludlow also sued Northwestern for defamation and gender discrimination for how it handled the matter in public, and the student for defamation and ruining his employment prospects for bringing the internal disciplinary matter into the public eye.

In response to the student’s federal lawsuit, Northwestern argued the student did not do enough to prove her assertions the university failed to address her sexual harassment claims against Ludlow, and asked the judge to toss her complaint.

After investigating the allegations brought by the student, Northwestern denied Ludlow a pay raise, rescinded his appointment to an endowed professor position and ordered Ludlow to not have any contact with or retaliate against the student.

In his Nov. 13 ruling, Leinenweber pointed to the university’s actions to investigate the matter, issue a report on its findings in the matter and ultimately take “remedial action” against Ludlow, “which consisted at least in part by instructing Ludlow not have any contact with” the student.

The judge said the student has not argued Ludlow violated those orders, meaning “Northwestern took timely, reasonable and successful measures to end the harassment.”

“Therefore, it is not liable under Title IX for Ludlow’s harassment,” Leinenweber wrote.

Further, Leinenweber took issue with the student’s demand the university fire Ludlow to fully address her complaint. He said legal precedent instructs courts to shy away from “second-guessing the disciplinary decisions made by school administrators” in such cases.

“The Supreme Court specifically held that Title IX does not give the victim the right to make particular remedial demands,” the judge wrote.

The student has stated “knowledge of Ludlow’s presence on campus caused her considerable grief," but Leinenweber said "this is not actionable under Title IX."

He also placed little stock in the student’s allegations of retaliation against the university, chalking the occurrences up as essentially happenstance or squabbles she may have had with other entities, while blaming Northwestern.

“None of the occurrences could be classified as retaliation,” Leinenweber said.

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