University responds to legal complaint in Title IX discrimination lawsuit

    Northwestern University filed an answer in district court today to the legal case brought against it by a Medill junior who claims the University failed to act on its finding that a professor sexually assaulted her. 

    The University details the corrective and remedial actions it took against professor Peter Ludlow, who was found by a University investigation to have engaged in inappropriate conduct with the student. The actions included procluding Ludlow from receiving a raise in the 2012-2013 year, rescinding his professorship to an endowed professor position, discouraging from having one-on-one social contact with undergraduates, prohibiting him from partaking in any romantic or sexual relationship with a student in the future, requiring him to complete sensitivity and sexual harassment prevention training with an outside consultant, directing him not to contact the student in any way or reach out to her through online blogs or posts and lastly, warning him that any similar incident in the future would subject him to further sanctions. The University's response said these actions were detailed in an Aug. 15, 2013 letter to the student's attorneys. 

    The University acknowledged in the answer that Ludlow did provide the underage student alcohol while attending an art event with her on Feb. 10, 2012. It confirmed as well that Ludlow photographed her, and that he and the student were at his apartment in the evening. The response stated the University could neither confirm nor deny that Ludlow ignored the student's requests to be taken back to Evanston, which her initial court documents claimed. 

    The response also admits that the University's investigation found that "Ludlow engaged in unwelcome and inappropriate sexual advances" toward the student by kissing her and touching her back. According to the response, the investigation did confirm that the defendant woke up in Ludlow's bed around 4:30 a.m. that morning with his arm around her. It did not, however, conclude that Ludlow had groped the student as she claimed, the response said. 

    A University faculty member notified Director of Sexual Harassment Prevention Joan Slavin of the incident on Feb. 13, 2012, and Slavin immediately began an investigation of the allegations, the response said. Slavin told Ludlow to cease any communications with the student, and then interviewed him, the student and other witnesses, the response said. According to the document, the findings and recommendations of this investigation were submitted in a 21-page document to the Dean of Weinberg on April 10, 2012. 

    The response confirms that the student was admitted to the hospital on Feb. 13, 2012, which her initial filing states was due to a suicide attempt. 

    The University's answer denies that all of the allegations the defendant has set forth in her case were reported to it in the initial investigation, and adds that the student's legal complaint included some, but not all, of Slavin's findings or reasoning during her investigation. The University's response said that the student's legal complaint does not fully document the correspondence that took place between Slavin and the student. According to the response, the University did not disclose any remedial actions taken against Ludlow to the student due to their confidential personnel nature. 

    The student's initial legal complaint states that she missed classes to avoid running into Ludlow, and was told she needed documentation to have her absences excused, thus forcing her to choose between revealing her sexual assault or having unexcused absences. The University's response denies this claim. 

    On April 24, 2012, the student and her attorney's sent a letter to Ludlow to engage him in pre-litigation settlement discussions, to which Ludlow and his attorney's responded on May 4, 2012, the response said. That letter denied the allegations and ordered the student to "cease and desist from making any further false statements about Ludlow," the response said. According to the response, the University investigated this correspondence and did not find the letter sent by Ludlow and his legal representation to be retaliatory. 

    The student's initial legal complaint stated that she was turned down from a fellowship at the University after disclosing the allegations of sexual assault. The University's response today denies that the student was rejected from the fellowship, and asserts that she was a finalist who was selected as an alternate if the chosen candidate could not accept the offer. 

    The response denies that "its response to [the student's] allegations of sexual harassment against Ludlow constituted 'inaction.'" The response also denies that the University refused to discuss the matter with the student or her attorney's, as her legal complaint states. 

    The student's legal complaint also says that she was forced to drop out of a study-abroad program due to distress caused by the incident. Her complaint states that the University assured her she would not have to pay for it, though she was billed for it. The University's response confirms that the student paid a $300 non-refundable study-abroad fee, though it states it never "assured her that she 'did not need to pay any money for the study abroad program.'"

    The legal complaint filed by the student on Feb. 10, 2014 stated that the University's investigation concluded that Ludlow should be terminated as an employee. The University's response denies this statement, adding that Ludlow appealed the disciplinary sanctions imposed on him unanimously by a six-person faculty committee. 

    The response asks for the student's legal complaint to be dismissed, stating that Northwestern is not liable under Title IX, the discrimination law under which it is being sued by the student, as it has "an effective policy for reporting and redressing sexual harassment and other types of sex discrimination." 


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