Title IX Complaints Allege Sexual Harassment by Professor During Research Trips in Antarctica

Sexual harassment is an unlawful form of sex discrimination under employment statutes in New York City and around the country. It is often a result of an individual taking advantage of their power or authority in the workplace over a subordinate. It could take the form of demands for sexual activity of some sort as a condition of employment, or a pattern of unwanted sexual remarks or advances. In either case, the alleged harasser relies to a large extent on the alleged victim’s inability to speak out directly against the behavior. Statutes like the New York City Human Rights Law and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 allow individuals who have experienced unlawful New York sexual harassment to file an administrative complaint, followed by a civil lawsuit. Some scenarios in which sexual harassment may occur, however, are not “workplaces” under the meaning of laws like Title VII. Sexual harassment can occur in academic settings, and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 provides recourse in those situations. In late 2016, several former graduate students complained of sexual harassment by a professor. An internal investigation by the university resulted in the professor’s dismissal a year later. The story made headlines largely because the alleged harassment did not occur in a classroom or laboratory, but instead during research trips to Antarctica.

When sexual harassment occurs in an educational setting, employment anti-discrimination statutes might not apply. Title IX prohibits discrimination by certain educational institutions on the basis of sex. 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a). Federal funding is the main factor determining whether Title IX applies to a particular educational institution. A series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions have established that Title IX allows civil claims for sexual harassment by teachers, professors, or other employees against students, provided that the school administration knew about the alleged harassment and failed to take appropriate action. Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools, 503 U.S. 60 (1992); Gebser v. Lago Vista Independent School Dist., 524 U.S. 274 (1998).

The cases involving research trips to Antarctica mentioned above involved three former graduate students and the geology department chair at Boston University (BU). The complaints allege numerous acts of sexual harassment during trips to Antarctica between 1999 and 2001, when the department chair was an assistant professor. Antarctica is the fifth-largest continent in the world—larger than Europe or Australia—but because of its location at the South Pole, it is almost entirely covered with ice. It has no permanent population. The only residents temporarily inhabit scientific research stations. The continent is not under the jurisdiction of any particular nation, but any nation’s presence there is governed by international treaties. U.S. laws generally apply to Americans in Antarctica.

The three complainants alleged numerous acts of crude sexual remarks, sexual overtures, and physical assault while in Antarctica, with one complainant stating that “every day was terrifying.” The university conducted an investigation over the course of 13 months. In November 2017, it concluded that the professor had “engaged in sexual harassment in violation of [BU’s] Sexual Harassment Policy and Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Policy.” The university placed the professor on paid administrative leave pending his appeal. His appeal was denied in February 2018.

The employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates advocate on behalf of New York City workers and job seekers, representing them in claims of sexual harassment and other unlawful workplace practices under federal and state sexual harassment laws. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case, contact us today at (212) 248-7431 or online.

More Blog Posts:

Lawsuit Alleges Retaliation by University in Upstate New York for Reports of Sexual Harassment, New York Employment Attorney Blog, May 23, 2018

Writers Speak Out About Sexual Harassment in the Literary Communities of New York City and Elsewhere, New York Employment Attorney Blog, March 22, 2018

Report Highlights Sexual Harassment in Medical Schools, New York Employment Attorney Blog, October 10, 2016

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