Dartmouth says letting women use pseudonyms in sexual misconduct lawsuit is burdensome and confusing

Posted at 8:29 PM, May 15, 2019

Dartmouth College is challenging the use of pseudonyms in a $70 million class-action lawsuit that accuses the school of failing to promptly address sexual misconduct allegations against three former professors.

The Ivy League institution says the anonymity would hamper its ability to defend itself.

A federal complaint, filed in November, accuses the educators of turning the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences into a “21st Century Animal House,” where female students were subjected to sexual harassment, groping and even rape.

The New Hampshire school maintains that it does not condone the misconduct alleged. But it disputes that it’s liable for the damages that the plaintiffs — current and former graduate — are seeking.

Two more people — both former students — joined the lawsuit in May as Jane Doe 2 and Jane Doe 3, bringing the total number of plaintiffs to nine.

The two new Jane Does asked a judge to let them remain anonymous, citing concerns for their mental health, reputations and careers. According to their motion to use pseudonyms, Jane Doe 2 endured sexual assault and harassment by the professors and Jane Doe 3 was the victim of sexual misconduct and harassment.

Revealing their names would amplify the emotional distress they have already experienced, the motion argued, and expose them to possible retaliation and reputational harm.

In a response to the plaintiffs’ request, filed Tuesday, Dartmouth argued that the unnamed plaintiffs “failed to overcome the high bar necessary” to use pseudonyms.

The nature of some of the allegations is not “necessarily sufficient” to allow the plaintiffs to use pseudonyms, the school said, and asked the court to deny anonymity.

Anonymity would “prejudice” the school’s ability to defend itself, the school claims, and “unfairly increase the burden” of litigating the case for all parties involved, presenting “unworkable challenges.”

Six of the nine plaintiffs are named in the complaint and some of them have used their names in media interviews, Dartmouth said in its response.

If anonymity is granted, the parties would have to proceed with multiple aspects of the litigation, such as investigations and depositions, “with the vague and confusing use of ‘Jane Doe 1,’ ‘Jane Doe 2,’ and ‘Jane Doe 3′ along with six other named plaintiffs.”

The lawsuit accuses Dartmouth of failing to create an environment free from gender-based discrimination, in violation of Title IX.

The plaintiffs claims Dartmouth knew about the professors’ behavior for more than 16 years and did nothing. The plaintiffs claim the specific misconduct alleged in the lawsuit took place between 2014 and 2017.

Dartmouth says it quickly moved to investigate the allegations once several students filed reports in 2017. Regarding allegations going back to 2002, Dartmouth said it took “prompt action.”

The men at the center of the allegations, Todd Heatherton, William Kelley, and Paul Whalen, left Dartmouth and are no longer allowed on campus. One of them retired and the other two resigned after the college’s investigation, the school has said.

Kelley and Whalen have not responded to CNN’s requests for comment.

In a statement through his lawyer in November, Heatherton denied “playing any role in creating a toxic environment at Dartmouth College” and said none of the plaintiffs were his graduate students.