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Christine Adams, left, and Susanna Hempstead, center, listen to a speaker during a rally outside of Ellis Hall on Feb. 24, 2017. The rally was held in response to the university's treatment of the sexual harassment allegations against English professor Andrew Escobedo. (FILE)

Ohio University settles with students in sexual misconduct case

Ohio University has settled with two graduate students who sued the university for gender discrimination, alleging that OU was aware of sexual misconduct by a professor and failed to take action.

Christine Adams and Susanna Hempstead filed a civil suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio in March 2017, arguing that then-English Department Chair Joe McLaughlin was aware of previous misconduct by then-English Professor Andrew Escobedo and did not report the misconduct. 

They described a pattern of misconduct in which Escobedo socialized with junior faculty and students at bars and touched them sexually without consent for more than a decade. If the university had acted earlier, they would not have faced the same harassment, they argued.

Escobedo was facing dismissal for sexual harassment when he announced his resignation in August 2017. He settled with Adams and Hempstead in August.

Investigators with the Office of Equity and Civil Rights Compliance found that he more likely than not sexually harassed students in cases spanning more than a decade. Six students filed complaints with the office, and investigators found enough evidence to substantiate four of those complaints.

The university argued officials took adequate measures to respond to sexual harassment reported to them. The Office of Institutional Equity investigated the complaint it received in 2006, but found investigators had insufficient evidence that Escobedo had violated the university’s sexual misconduct policy. Escobedo was placed on administrative leave within one week of Hempstead and Adams’ complaints against him, according to the university’s response.

The university acknowledged the settlement in a press release Wednesday.

“Survivors of sexual violence and harassment rightfully seek resolution in many ways,” the university stated in a press release. “In reaching a legal settlement, we acknowledge the challenges these survivors have endured, and will continue to endure. We recognize this is a small step in the healing process.”

Michael Fradin, who represented Hempstead and Adams in court, said the settlement marks the beginning of a lifelong healing process for the women.

“Hempstead and Adams came forward at great personal and professional risk and with the goal of protecting their fellow students and making their community a safer place,” Fradin said. “This settlement is a testament to their hard work and resilience. These survivors endured disbelief, humiliation, and retaliation over the past three years, without any promise of a favorable outcome.”

Hempstead and Adams will serve as members of the University’s Presidential Advisory Council on Sexual Misconduct moving forward, according to the news release. Fradin said they hope Ohio University will become a safer place for survivors of sexual violence.

“Moving forward, Hempstead and Adams hope that Ohio University will set itself apart as an active participant in the discussion of power dynamics and sexual violence and prove itself to become a leader in implementing institutional policies that will better allow its students to grow and learn in an environment free from discrimination, harassment, and violence,” Fradin said.

@baileygallion

bg272614@ohio.edu

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