Judge rules female student can move forward with suit against HarperCollins over sexual assault book

By Amanda Thomas | Apr 6, 2018

CHICAGO — A federal judge in Chicago has ruled that a graduate student can move forward with her suit against HarperCollins LLC and a Northwestern University professor over a book on Title IX and sexual assault.

In his March 6 ruling in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Judge John Robert Blakey declined to grant HarperCollins' and professor Laura Kipnis’ motion to dismiss the case.

“It is enough that [the] plaintiff has alleged that [the] defendants crossed the line and publicized intensely private facts, the publication of which purportedly served no legitimate public interest,” Blakey said in his opinion.

The student, who filed the lawsuit in May as “Jane Doe,” claims that Kipnis intentionally published embarrassing and untrue details about her relationship with former Northwestern philosophy professor Peter Ludlow. 

Jennifer Salvatore   Salvatore Prescott & Porter

Kipnis’ book, “Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus,” critiques the Title IX process that colleges and universities use to investigate sexual discrimination complaints. The lawsuit alleged Kipnis is a friend of Ludlow and wrote the book in reaction to Doe’s rape allegations.

Title IX proceedings were brought against Ludlow in February 2014. He was subsequently forced to resign.

Doe also noted Kipnis’ articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education referenced the case, saying it gave rise to the book, which was released in April 2017. The suit claims that Kipnis made almost no effort to disguise her identity. Doe alleges, even though the book uses a pseudonym, it doesn’t do much else to conceal her identity, saying the book included a physical description of her.

She also cited the reprinting of private text messages between her and Ludlow that Kipnis reportedly said proved the two had a consensual sexual relationship. In their motion to dismiss, the defendants argued the allegations fall flat and don’t measure up to the standards of libel and media law. But Blakey disagreed and said Kipnis’ own writing undercuts that argument, quoting the words in the introduction to her book.

“'Still, as you’ve probably gathered, going through a Title IX investigation... has made me a little mad and possibly a little dangerous: transformed from a harmless ironist into an aspiring whistleblower,'" the opinion reads.

Blakey also noted the plaintiff’s allegations that HarperCollins failed to check Kipnis’ sources despite allegedly knowing that she may have an axe to grind.

“At this stage of the proceedings, this court must accept the plaintiff’s allegations as true,” Blakey said in his opinion. “With the benefit of that presumption, [the] plaintiff’s claim survives.”

Doe is represented in the action by attorneys Jennifer B. Salvatore, Kyle A. Palazzolo and Julie B. Porter, of the firm of Salvatore Prescott & Porter PLLC, of Northville, Mich., and Evanston.

Harpercollins and Kipnis are represented by attorneys Katherine M. Bolger, of the firm of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, of New York, and Lauren Jennifer Caisman and Brian Alan Sher, of the firm of Bryan Cave Llp, of Chicago.  

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Bryan Cave, Llp Davis Wright and Tremaine Llp Harpercollins Northwestern University U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

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