Alleged Sexual Harassment by New York University Professor Leads to Investigation, Lawsuit

The #MeToo movement began in 2017 with a series of allegations against men in positions of power in Hollywood and has reached numerous other workplaces. Most of the allegations have been made by women against men, but sexual harassment in New York City and around the country can happen between people of any gender. Men can sexually harass men, women can sexually harass men or women, and so on. Last year, New York University (NYU) suspended a female professor after investigating allegations of sexual harassment by a male former graduate student. The student then filed a lawsuit alleging violations of the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL). Reitman v. Ronell, et al, No. 157658/2018, 1st am. complaint (N.Y. Sup. Ct., N.Y. Cty., Sep. 14, 2018).

Sexual harassment is considered a form of unlawful gender discrimination under the NYCHRL and other statutes. The NYCHRL covers both workplaces and educational institutions in New York City. Our legal system generally recognizes two categories of sexual harassment. Quid pro quo sexual harassment involves a situation where someone in a position of authority makes submitting to some form of sexual activity a condition of employment, such as a supervisor who will only assign good shifts to an employee if they agree to have sex. A hostile work environment occurs when unwelcome sexual conduct, ranging from remarks or jokes to contact or assault, directly interferes with a person’s ability to do their job.

The plaintiff was a graduate student at NYU in the Department of German from 2012 until he received his Ph.D. in 2015. He states in his complaint that he turned down offers from Yale, Brown, and Stanford Universities so that he could study under the defendant, “a world-renowned academic and author.” Reitman, complaint at 3. He alleges that the defendant “created a fictitious romantic relationship between herself and her student,” and that she “asserted complete domination and control over his life, both inside and outside of his academic endeavors.” Id. at 3-4. This allegedly included “forcibly groping, touching, and kissing him on a regular basis.” Id. at 4.

The plaintiff claims that he reported this conduct to the administration in 2013, but that the university took no action. He states that he did not pursue further complaints while still a student because he “fear[ed]…[the defendant’s] wrath” and believed that he should keep quiet “if he wanted to ever have a career in academia.” Id. at 26. He also claims that the defendant “sabotag[ed] his efforts to obtain a teaching position” after his graduation. Id. at 5.

After graduating, the plaintiff filed a Title IX complaint with NYU. The university investigated the case for almost a year, and then concluded that the professor had “physically and verbally sexually harassed [the plaintiff] over a sustained period of time.” Id. The plaintiff alleges that the professor then “used her influence and vast connections to organize a campaign of misinformation against” him. Id.

The plaintiff’s lawsuit, filed in state court in Manhattan, alleges four counts against the professor and NYU under the NYCHRL: gender discrimination, quid pro quo sexual harassment, hostile educational environment, and retaliation. It also asserts separate causes of action against NYU for gender discrimination under the NYCHRL and for negligent training, supervision, and retention.

Phillips & Associates’ employment attorneys advocate for the rights of New York City employees, former employees, and job seekers in claims for unlawful workplace practices. Please contact us today at (212) 248-7431 or online to schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case.

Contact Information