Student Title IX lawsuit against university for handling of Ludlow case dismissed

    Updated Nov. 14 at 5:35 p.m. with statements from Vice President for University Relations Alan Cubbage and Kevin O'Connor, the student's lawyer.

    A court dismissed the Medill senior’s Title IX case against Northwestern Thursday. 

    A federal district court for the eastern division of the Northern district of Illinois ruled that because Northwestern “took timely, reasonable, and successful measure to end the harassment,” they did not violate Title IX, a federal gender equality law, for their handling of the student’s report that Professor Peter Ludlow sexually assaulted her in Feb. 2012.

    Northwestern is "pleased" with the dismissal, according to an email from Alan Cubbage, vice president for university relations.

    "As we have said previously, Northwestern is strongly committed to responding appropriately to complaints of sexual harassment and sexual assault, and as the court ruled today, the University did so in this case," said Cubbage in the statement. "Northwestern complied fully with its procedures, conducted a prompt, fair and thorough investigation and took a number of corrective and remedial actions."

    The student's case, however, stated that Northwestern did not take adequate action. According to the court documents, she argued the "failure of Northwestern to fire Ludlow and allowing him to remain on campus created a hostile enrollment that effectively deprived her of the education opportunities and benefits provided by the school,” according to the court documents.

    “For the past two years, my life was almost ruined. It has been so hard for me the past two years. I could not get my stuff together,” the student said in an interview with North By Northwestern last February. “I felt like my life was starting to fall – it was falling apart already.”

    Judge Harry D. Leinenweber wrote in his opinion that Joan Slavin, the director of sexual harassment prevention, immediately took action after the incident was reported, as well as immediately after the Medill student told her that Peter Ludlow, a philosophy professor, had sent her a letter threatening to sue her for defamation.

    However, Leinenweber wrote that there did not need to be payment of damages when “the institution is unaware of the hostile environment.” Had Ludlow continued to harass the student following the university’s investigation and action, he wrote, then Northwestern would have been liable for indifferently handling her case, according to the 1999 Court of Appeals for the First Circuit case Wills v. Brown University.

    The court opinion also said that the student’s argument “flies in the face” of the Supreme Court precedent established in the 1999 case Davis Next Friend LaShonda D. v. Monroe which said the plaintiff does not have the right to make “particular remedial demands.”

    Kevin O'Connor, one of the student's lawyers, said that they are "disappointed with the Judge's ruling," but "undeterred." They will continue to take legal action where they can in the coming months.

    Ludlow responded to the lawsuit in March by denying the accusations of sexual assault, but the court documents released Thursday openly acknowledge that Ludlow sexually assaulted the student.

    Ludlow also filed a lawsuit against the university in June, arguing that they discriminated against him by not taking his version of events into account and that university defamed him. That case has yet to be decided.


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