Harvard grad claims school shirked responsibility in sexual assault case
By Evan Lips | February 17, 2016, 14:52 EDT
CAMBRIDGE — An explosive lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court alleges that Harvard University ignored a student’s plea to have an ex-boyfriend she claims repeatedly sexually assaulted her removed from the dorm where they lived.
The plaintiff, who graduated last year, also notes in her complaint that the prestigious school dismissed her allegations of sexual abuse and harassment, prompting her to file the 29-page lawsuit in Massachusetts U.S. District Court.
Reached on Wednesday, Harvard University spokeswoman Tania deLuzuriaga said in an email that the school “does not comment on pending litigation.”
The complaint, filed by 2015 graduate Alyssa Leader, does not identify the ex-boyfriend by name, instead referencing him as John Doe 1. Leader claims that soon after she reported the allegations to a residential dean during a discussion about academic problems, the dean “discouraged Leader from filing a formal complaint” but ultimately referred her to the school’s Title IX coordinator.
Leader also claims that the dean met with John Doe 1 and told her, “when you are in my office I believe you, when he is my office I believe him,” prompting her to report the alleged sexual assaults to the Harvard University Police Department. She claims the ex-boyfriend’s pattern of harassment only escalated after she filed her complaints with the school.
“Harvard allowed John Doe 1 to remain in the same dorm as Leader, despite Leader detailing John Doe 1’s ongoing abusive, harassing and retaliatory behaviors to defendants,” the lawsuit claims.
Leader also notes that John Doe 1 was only transferred to another dorm after she successfully applied for a restraining order. Both Leader and her ex-boyfriend graduated from the school last May.
“Defendants allowed John Doe 1 to walk in the graduation ceremonies despite their policy to not allow respondents in ongoing disciplinary proceedings to participate,” the lawsuit notes.
The lawsuit also goes into detail regarding Title IX and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights Title IX enforcement practices. The complaint references the OCR’s investigation procedures and notes that since Harvard receives federal financial assistance, the school must comply with all regulations. In addition the complaint references the ongoing federal investigation and review of Harvard’s Title IX policies and procedures.
Leader’s attorney, Alex Zalkin of San Diego, said he thinks his client’s issues are “too common of a problem at Harvard.”
“Whatever that’s been done this far to remedy that problem hasn’t worked,” Zalkin said Wednesday. “It’s gotten to the point where my client has had to file a federal lawsuit in order to get the school to pay attention.”
Zalkin added that Leader, although an alleged victim of sexual assault, has approved of disclosing her name in current and future media coverage of her lawsuit.
Zalkin also said he’s awaiting Harvard’s response.
“I’d imagine that they’ll put out the kind of standard public relations line — ‘we take this seriously, we’re doing all we can to comply, etc.’ — but in terms of the lawsuit I don’t expect to hear from them other than in the form of a formal filing in court.”
DeLuzuriaga also relayed a statement from the school concerning sexual relations on campus:
“The continued prevalence of sexual harassment and assault at Harvard and on college campuses across the nation is deeply disturbing. Harvard responds fairly and purposefully to every allegation of sexual assault among its students, faculty, and staff. In recent years, the University has adopted a new Title IX Policy and Procedures, created a new office to investigate allegations of sexual assault and other forms of harassment, and increased training and resources to both prevent and respond to incidents.”
Presiding over the case is Massachusetts U.S. District Court Judge Denise J. Casper.
A full copy of Leader’s complaint can be found here: