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Judge throws out professor's lawsuit against Northwestern; student who accused him of sexual assault tries to revive her tossed suit against school

By Bethany Krajelis | Feb 6, 2015

A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a Northwestern University professor's lawsuit against the school and a handful of its top officials stemming from their handling of sexual misconduct allegations.

The ruling comes about a year after a female undergraduate student sued philosophy professor Peter Ludlow in Cook County Circuit Court, accusing him of making unwanted sexual advances following an off-campus event in 2012.

Her February 2014 suit marked the first in a handful of actions brought over the alleged sexual assault and the university's subsequent investigation.

She also sued the school in federal court the same month, claiming it didn't do enough to address the situation. Ludlow filed a defamation suit against her and another against several media outlets, as well as a federal suit accusing the university and its leadership of gender discrimination, defamation and invasion of privacy.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Sara L. Ellis dismissed all of the claims in Ludlow's federal suit, saying he failed to prove the university discriminated against him based on his gender and that the allegedly defamatory statements were actually defamatory.

Ludlow's federal suit focused on the university's handling of the student's allegations that after going to an art event with him, where he made unwanted sexual advances and got her drunk, she woke up in his bed the next morning with his arms around her, panicked and blacked out.

The student in 2012 told a professor about the alleged incident involving Ludlow, which made its way to the university’s director of Sexual Harassment Prevention. Following an investigation, the student’s suit alleges it was determined Ludlow had engaged in unwelcome and inappropriate sexual advances toward her.

Ludlow's lawsuit, however, asserted that the investigation was “flawed and one-sided.”

In court filings of its own, the university noted that it acted against Ludlow following the investigation, moving to, among other disciplinary actions, deny him a pay raise, rescind his appointment to an endowed professor position, and tell him not to have any contact with or retaliate against the student.

Following student protests that erupted on campus after the student filed her lawsuits last year, the university asked Ludlow not to teach his spring classes, a request he agreed to on the condition university officials tell the media only that “Professor Ludlow is not teaching spring quarter.”

But, in the days that followed, Ludlow's suit alleged school officials, including President Morton Schapiro and Vice President Alan Cubbage, told reporters “all the controversy and allegations out there” prompted the university to remove Ludlow from his classes.

Following those events, Ludlow claimed in his suit that another professor began calling for his termination, and a female graduate student with whom he said he had had a consensual sexual relationship filed a complaint with the university alleging he had engaged in inappropriate conduct with her.

Northwestern brought in an independent investigator to handle that complaint who concluded that while Ludlow’s conduct with the graduate student was not “unwelcome,” it still constituted sexual harassment under university policy because Ludlow had “unequal power in the relationship.”

He claimed the university’s investigations into both sexual misconduct complaints failed to consider key pieces of evidence that he offered in his defense and resulted in emotional distress, humiliation, embarrassment, and lost income and benefits.

In her 32-page opinion, Ellis dismissed Ludlow' gender discrimination claim, finding that his claim was based on alleged discrimination related to his employment, even though he argued otherwise, and as such, failed to allege the necessary requirements.

"Ludlow’s Complaint and Response set out a list of problems with the 2014 investigation," Ellis wrote. "But even considered in the light most favorable to Ludlow, these complaints contain no explicit or implied link to sex or gender."

Ellis also tossed Ludlow's claims for defamation and false light against the defendants, which along with the university, Schapiro and Cubbage, included Northwestern’s Director of Sexual Harassment Prevention Joan Slawin, professor Joan Lackey and the female graduate student who instigated the second misconduct investigation.Ludlow claimed statements defendants made during the investigation into sexual misconduct allegations, as well as to the media and students after about the investigation and why he wasn't teaching his spring courses were false.
The judge, however, disagreed, saying saying that Ludlow failed to prove the statements were defamatory because they were either substantially true, not highly offensive, could be innocently construed, were of opinion or barred by statue of limitations or protected by qualified privilege.Ellis also tossed a civil conspiracy claim Ludlow included in his suit, saying that it had to be dismissed because his gender discrimination, defamation and false light claims failed. The dismissal of Ludlow's federal suit comes on the heels of recent filings in the student's federal lawsuit against the university. Although a judge dismissed her suit in November, essentially saying the university took appropriate measures following the investigation, she filed motions last month seeking to vacate the dismissal based on what she asserts is new evidence. The evidence, she contends, is an affidivat from a philosophy professor at Southern Connecticut State University who alleges professors and students had raised concerns with her over Ludlow' alleged sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior toward female students.
The student argues the judge should reconsider or vacate his dismissal based on this new evidence because it"further establishes Northwestern's deliberate indifference and systemic disregard of sex discrimination and harassment by the faculty."
In a Jan. 29 response, the university contends the student's post-judgment motions should be denied because they re-hash arguments the judge already rejected. It also claims the evidence the student dubs as newly discovered isn't new and is "an affidavit filled with hearsay, rumor and speculation, sworn to by an individual who has no connection to this case or Northwestern."Court records show rulings on the student's motions will be handed down next month. As for the state suits stemming from the 2012 alleged incident, records show the student's February 2014 action against Ludlow and his defamation suit against her remain pending. Ludlow's defamation suit against several media outlets, however, was tossed by a Cook County judge in July under the fair-report privilege, but it appears from court records he is appealing that ruling.

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