CONCORD, N.H. (CN) – Following a trio of departures by Dartmouth professors accused of sexual misconduct, the prestigious school was accused in court Thursday of allowing the men to operate a “predators’ club” out of its psych department for over 16 years.
Seven former students — all but one of whom has come forward publicly — brought the lawsuit this morning in U.S. District Court of the District of New Hampshire, with help from attorneys at the firms Douglas, Leonard & Garvey in Concord and Sanford Heisler Sharp.
Only the school is named as a defendant, but the complaint comes after internal complaints prompted the resignations or retirements this past July of Todd Heatherton, William Kelley and Paul Whalen from Dartmouth’s Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences.
The women say Dartmouth knowingly permitted these three “prominent (and well-funded) professors to turn a human behavior research department into a 21st century ‘Animal House.’”
“These professors leered at, groped, sexted, intoxicated, and even raped female students,” the complaint states.
“These professors ensured the young women in the department were vulnerable to this sexual harassment by conditioning faculty mentorship and support on students’ participation in the alcohol-saturated ‘party culture’ they perpetuated. Among other things, these professors conducted professional lab meetings at bars, invited students to late-night ‘hot tub parties’ in their personal homes, and invited undergraduate students to use real cocaine during classes related to addiction as part of a ‘demonstration.’”
Dartmouth never took action, according to the complaint, despite having received complaints about the three professors going back as far as 2002.
The women say Dartmouth faced pressure from the public and the New Hampshire attorney general in fall 2017 that the school began an internal investigation. Though the school promised the 27 accusers who had come forward that they would get a voice in the probe, according to the complaint, “instead Dartmouth unilaterally stopped the investigation and allowed the three professors to retire and/or resign in July 2018, more than fifteen months after plaintiffs filed their initial complaints.”
Early complaints against the professors included multiple reports that they had groped the breasts and butts of female researchers, and that they openly ranked the sexually desirability of the students, while favoring those students who went along with their drinking binges and sexual banter.
“The department’s faculty have described Dartmouth as ‘the capital of sexism’ and likened the department to a fraternity house of which Kelley, Whalen, and Heatherton were self-appointed co-presidents,” the complaint states.
The lawsuit also claims that the three professors regularly flaunted their own substance abuse.
“Kelley bragged to his students that he snorted real cocaine in class during demonstrations related to addiction,” the complaint states. “Kelley, Whalen, and Heatherton openly took shots of alcohol with underage prospective students. When hiring undergraduates to work in his lab, Kelley sometimes scheduled the interviews to take place at bars and purchased drinks for the underage interviewees.”
A representative from Dartmouth did not respond to a voicemail requesting comment, but the school denied wrongdoing in an email to the college community this morning.
“I would like to reiterate that sexual misconduct and harassment have no place at Dartmouth,” Dartmouth President Philip Hanlon said in an email to the college community Thursday. “We applaud the courage displayed by members of our community within PBS who brought the misconduct allegations to Dartmouth’s attention last year. And we remain open to a fair resolution of the students’ claims through an alternative to the court process.”
Though Dartmouth never released the findings of its internal investigation, it is said that the writing was on the wall that the school was preparing to fire the three professors. Told that he would be fired without tenure, Heatherton retired in July, and Whalen and Kelley resigned shortly thereafter.
The New Hampshire Attorney General’s investigation remains ongoing.
Heatherton has reportedly apologized for acting inappropriately at conferences. Through a lawyer, the former professor has denied ever socializing or having sexual relations with students.
The Associated Press said Whalen and Kelley could not be reached for comment, and it is unclear if they have attorneys.