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Students protest professor Andrew Escobedo, who was accused of sexually harassing multiple students, while demanding his termination and that the university stops supporting him. (FILE)

Civil rights suit against Ohio University and English professor will continue

A sexual harassment civil rights suit against Ohio University and an English professor will proceed.

In an order filed Monday, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio Judge Algenon L. Marbley granted and denied parts of the university and English professor Joe McLaughlin’s motion to dismiss the complaint against them and former English professor Andrew Escobedo.

Escobedo was facing dismissal and detenuring when he resigned Nov. 1. The two women who filed the suit, Susanna Hempstead and Christine Adams, filed a sexual harassment complaint with the OU Office of Equity and Civil Rights Compliance in March 2016. They told investigators Escobedo bought them drinks at an end-of-semester gathering at a local bar, touched them sexually and kissed one of them without consent after commenting that he hadn’t submitted grades yet. 

Over the course of the university’s investigation into his behavior, a total of six people filed complaints against Escobedo, and investigators uncovered enough evidence to find that he violated university policy in four of those cases. The complaints stemmed from incidents as early as 2003, and the Office of Equity and Civil Rights Compliance found that he repeatedly made unwanted sexual advances toward female students.

Escobedo has denied that he broke university policy or has a tendency to make sexual advances toward students.

Hempstead and Adams filed the federal complaint in March 2017. Through their attorney, Michael Fradin, they argued that Escobedo, McLaughlin and OU violated their right to equal access to education. McLaughlin, who was chair of the English department when the incidents took place, was aware of earlier harassment by Escobedo and failed to take action, Fradin wrote.

Marbley’s Monday order only concerns the allegations against McLaughlin and the university — not those against Escobedo. Escobedo has separate legal representation from the university.

The court has not ruled whether or not any of the allegations are true. At the current stage in the process, the judge has only ruled that Hempstead and Adams should be allowed to collect more evidence and continue to argue some of the claims.

Marbley ruled that the women’s attorney had not identified evidence that McLaughlin continues to violate their rights and dismissed those claims. The women can continue to argue their claim that McLaughlin previously violated their rights to equal access to education. 

In their complaint, the women allege McLaughlin, who said he considered himself a close friend of Escobedo’s, was aware of a sexual relationship between Escobedo and a graduate student in 2006 and didn’t take action. They also allege McLaughlin was aware of a 2006 incident in which Escobedo attempted to kiss a junior faculty member without consent, and that McLaughlin said Escobedo was just “like that” and failed to report the misconduct to the Office of Equity and Civil Rights Compliance.

Marbley dismissed some counts of sexual harassment against the university and McLaughlin as duplicates of other counts. He ruled that the university was not strictly liable for any quid pro quo sexual harassment the women encountered at OU, meaning the women must prove the university knew about the harassment and remained deliberately indifferent.

The women can continue to argue multiple claims that the university was deliberately indifferent to Escobedo’s sexual harassment, violating their Title IX rights. In their complaint, Fradin argued the university’s Office of Equity and Civil Rights Compliance received a report of sexual misconduct by Escobedo and conducted a climate survey in response. 

The university then lost the climate survey and failed to take any action against Escobedo until Adams and Hempstead reported sexual harassment, according to the complaint.

Both the defendants and the plaintiffs have demanded a jury trial to resolve the case. Adams and Hempstead ask for monetary damages, reimbursement of tuition, attorney fees and several Title IX reforms at OU in their complaint. 


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