Judge ends discrimination suit vs Northwestern brought by male professor accused of sexual misdeeds

By Scott Holland | Sep 1, 2015

A federal judge has rejected a Northwestern University professor’s amended claim against the school, ending another chapter in a complex legal battle centered around his relationships with female students.

About six months after U.S. District Judge Sara L. Ellis rejected the Title IX discrimination claim of Northwestern philosophy professor Peter Ludlow, she dismissed his amended complaint in an Aug. 28 ruling.

In February 2014, a female undergraduate sued Ludlow in Cook County Circuit Court, accusing him of making unwanted sexual advances following an off-campus event in 2012. That was followed by an additional complaint of nonconsensual sex from a graduate student with whom court documents say Ludlow had an otherwise consensual romantic relationship

Northwestern brought in an independent investigator to handle that complaint. The investigator "found insufficient evidence to support the claim of non-consensual sex," but still found Ludlow had "violated Northwestern's policy against sexual harassment because he had 'unequal power in the relationship.'"

Ludlow then sued the school on a claim of gender discrimination, claiming he had been denied the proper opportunities to dispute the allegations against him because his accuser was female and he was male.

In her initial dismissal, Ellis found Ludlow’s claim was based on alleged discrimination related to his employment, even though he argued otherwise, and as such, failed to allege the necessary requirements. She wrote much the same in her dismissal of his amended complaint, explaining how his claim is, in fact, an employment discrimination complaint preempted by Title VII, leading her to dismiss his Title IX complaint with prejudice.

“The investigation’s finding of sexual harassment was based on his status as a professor with ‘unequal power’ over a graduate student with whom he had a relationship,” Ellis wrote, referencing the university’s investigation of Ludlow’s conduct. “Ludlow would not be subject to Northwestern’s sexual harassment policies and procedures but for his job there. These factors point to his claim stemming from his employment.”

Further, even if the Title IX claim was not preempted, Ellis said even Ludlow’s amended complaint, like his original, fails to state a claim for Title IX gender discrimination. He argued not that the school’s harassment procedures are systematically flawed, but that he was intentionally denied “a partial and unbiased investigation” due to “outside pressure from radical women’s groups.”

However, Ellis writes, “Ludlow does not state any allegations that would support the inference that gender bias was a motivating factor in the sexual harassment finding. Ludlow pleads that Northwestern’s procedures were biased in favor of the victim and that ‘perfectly normal male behavior’ was misinterpreted and penalized. Asserting that he was denied fair procedures during the investigation ‘because he is male’ is the kind of conclusory statement that courts reject as insufficient to plead this claim.”

Rather, Ellis finds it clear Northwestern conducted its investigation because of the nature of the complaint, not because of his gender or outside pressure. She said Ludlow makes no allegation a female employee would have gotten better treatment if facing the same accusation.

In addition to the university, named defendants in Ludlow’s amended complaint are Northwestern Vice President Alan Cubbage, as well as the graduate student who instigated the second misconduct investigation.

In respect to the four state law claims of Ludlow’s amended complaint, Ellis declined to exercise jurisdiction, dismissing them without prejudice. In reviewing the argument on the motions to dismiss, she wrote, there were “complex questions of state law” that led to her determination it is not obvious how Ludlow’s claims would be decided. As such, Ludlow may continue to pursue those claims in Cook County Circuit Court, should he so desire, Ellis said.

Ludlow was represented in the action by attorneys from The Case Law Firm, of Chicago.

Northwestern was represented by the firm of Franczek Radelet P.C., of Chicago, while the graduate student in Ludlow’s complaint was represented by the firm of Scalambrino & Arnoff, of Chicago.

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Organizations in this Story

Franczek Radelet P.C. Northwestern University Scalambrino & Arnoff The Case Law Firm

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