Second lawsuit accuses Emerson of mishandling rape case

by Christina Jedra / Beacon Staff • January 6, 2015

Updated (Jan. 22, 2:39 a.m.)

Emerson is facing a second lawsuit alleging it mishandled a student’s sexual assault case.

The plaintiff, an anonymous student identified as Jane Doe in the suit, alleges the college and six administrators failed to “promptly and appropriately” respond to her assault, according to documents filed with the U.S. District Court in Springfield on Dec. 31.

Emerson is currently on a list of dozens of colleges and universities under federal investigation by the Department of Education after a complaint was filed by three Emerson students in 2013. Doe’s lawsuit says she is one of the complainants. Another complainant is Jillian Doherty, who also filed suit against Emerson in August for allegedly mishandling her rape case. David P. Angueira of Swartz & Swartz is representing the plaintiffs in both cases.

Doe’s lawsuit names, as defendants, President M. Lee Pelton; Ronald Ludman, the dean of students; David Haden, the director of housing and residence life; Residence Director Danielle Mastronardi; and Title IX investigators Kimberly Marcella and Michael Arno.

Doe is suing the defendants for violating Title IX — a federal law prohibiting gender discrimination — and for negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Andrew Tiedemann, Emerson’s vice president for communications and marketing, said that the college could not yet respond to the allegations.

“We have not yet had the opportunity to review the document and therefore cannot respond to its claims today,” he wrote in a statement to the Beacon. “However, Emerson is unequivocal in its commitment to prevent sexual assault, to support survivors of sexual assault and to nurture an environment where students feel safe reporting sexual assaults.”

Angueira did not respond to a requests for comment.

Doe reported the alleged assault, by an Emerson student and MIT student, in October 2012 to the Emerson College Police Department, and investigations were initiated by ECPD, the Boston Police Department, and the Cambridge Police Department, according to the lawsuit. Ultimately, she did not pursue a criminal investigation — despite a rape kit the lawsuit says contained incriminating evidence — because an Emerson residence director recommended she drop the criminal case, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit alleges the college handled Doe’s assault investigation inappropriately in several ways. According to the lawsuit, these faults include: that administrators breached Doe’s expectation of confidentiality by disclosing the alleged assault to Doe’s suitemate and mother without her consent; that Haden discouraged Doe from reporting the Emerson student’s alleged involvement; that the college “made no efforts” to move the student off of Doe’s dormitory floor; that Doe felt criticized by her Title IX investigators; and that the Title IX investigation was inadequate and did not result in a hearing.

The suit also criticizes ECPD’s handling of Doe’s case. The lawsuit says ECPD officers declined Doe’s request to be interviewed by a female officer and to have a friend present when reporting the alleged assault; that Doe was questioned in an “intimidating and threatening manner” about whether her alleged attack was rape; that an officer made her feel “uncomfortable, intimidated, and threatened” by pointing out that her alcohol consumption was a violation of school policy; and that Boston Police were called against Doe’s wishes.

In March 2013, according to the lawsuit, the MIT student and Emerson student saw Doe on the street, pushed her into an alley, and touched her inappropriately. Doe reported this incident to the ECPD, the lawsuit says.

Later that month, the lawsuit alleges that Marcella and Arno, the Title IX investigators, told Doe that there was “not enough information to go forward with an adjudication process” for her complaint of rape, but they did request an additional interview regarding Doe’s new report.

In May 2013, the lawsuit states, “Emerson College told Doe that her complaints against [the Emerson student] for rape, sexual assault, intimidation, and retaliation were ‘not supported by the preponderance of the evidence,’” the standard required by the Department of Education in Title IX cases. No charges were brought against the student, there was no hearing, and Ludman denied Doe’s request for an appeal, the lawsuit says.

“Doe was devastated and felt vulnerable to further attacks,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit says Doe has experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, panic and anxiety attacks, and depression—conditions that interfered with her education—and attempted suicide.

“Emerson College’s failure to act in an effective manner resulted in Jane Doe feeling unsafe on her own campus, attempting to take her own life, and taking prolonged leave of absences from school,” the lawsuit states, “thereby exacerbating her impaired mental state arising from the assault and effectively denying her access to the educational benefits and opportunity from either Emerson College or from any other college or university.”