Dartmouth Title IX Class Action

Case name: Kristina Rapuano, Vassiki Chauhan, Sasha Brietzke, et al. v. Trustees of Dartmouth College

Case type: Gender Discrimination and Title IX

Filed in: [United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire]

Docket: [Case no: 1:18-cv-01070 (LM)]

Case Summary

On November 15, 2018, Sanford Heisler Sharp filed a landmark, $70 million Title IX class action lawsuit against Dartmouth College in New Hampshire federal court on behalf of female students in Dartmouth’s Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences (“PBS”).

The Complaint alleged that Dartmouth willfully ignored more than a decade of widespread sexual misconduct by tenured professors Todd Heatherton, William Kelley, and Paul Whalen, who formed a private “predators club” and treated the PBS Department like a “21st Century Animal House,” hiring lab assistants based on their physical attractiveness. The Complaint detailed how the professors preyed on vulnerable female scientists, hitching their academic support to the female students’ participation in the “alcohol-saturated party culture” that the professors perpetuated.

In early 2017, according to the Complaint, a group of female graduate students contacted Dartmouth’s Title IX office and detailed instances of sexual harassment and assault by the professors. But Dartmouth, the Complaint said, made no effort in the interim to protect or warn its students, even while as many as 27 complainants added their voices to the investigation. During this interval, the Complaint alleged, one of the seven named plaintiffs was sexually assaulted by Whalen. Not until October 2017, when word of the complaints leaked to the press, did the school disclose the investigation, according to the Complaint. In 2018, all three of the professors were allowed to resign or retire.

A proposed plaintiffs’ class of more than 40 current and former students joined the lawsuit against the college, which alleged violations of Title IX, quid pro quo sexual harassment, gender discrimination, retaliation, and violation of state laws.

In May 2020, the Court approved a historic settlement that included $14 million in monetary relief, as well as programmatic relief valued at an additional $1.5 million.

Procedural History