A federal judge says she is likely to give final approval to a proposed $14 million settlement in a class action sexual misconduct lawsuit against Dartmouth College.
In a hearing Thursday, Judge Landya B. McCafferty said it was commendable that both parties were able to reach a settlement in a case that had “highly-charged allegations.”
In 2018, several women sued Dartmouth, alleging the college failed to properly protect students from harassment and assault by three former professors – Todd Heatherton, William Kelley, and Paul Whalen-- in the department of psychological and brain sciences.
The nine plaintiffs allege that Dartmouth was “long on notice of the Professors’ misconduct,” and that the college had received complaints about the professors dating back to 2002.
During Thursday’s hearing, three of the named plaintiffs in the case gave statements on behalf of the settlement class.
“In academia there is an insidious notion that we can only effectuate change once we have achieved tenure,” said Sasha Breitzke, who is currently a graduate student at Dartmouth.
She said that was something she heard frequently – keep your head down, focus on the science instead of causing “a fuss about the conditions created by the three professors in which we were forced to work.”
But she and the eight other plaintiffs came forward because “each of us knows a multitude of women who have encountered the same experience at our institution and in the broader circles of science and academia.”
Vassiki Chauhan, who is an international graduate student at Dartmouth, said that she’s been able to demand structural change at her institution.
“Had someone told me about this outcome, I would have disregarded it as fiction,” she said. “This demonstrates the importance of stating the reality of our lived experience and the extent of our collective pain.”
Seventy- four women are a part of the settlement class. That includes current and former women graduate students who met the following criteria: if between April 1, 2012 and August, 31 2017 they were advisees of one or more of the three professors; if they were teaching assistants for one or more of the three professors; or if they co-authored papers with one or more of the former professors.
Undergraduate students who worked as research assistants between those same dates are also part of the class.
On average, each person in the class will receive about $105,000, once the settlement agreement is approved.
In addition to the monetary settlement, Dartmouth and the plaintiffs will work together on initiatives funded by the college.
“We are deeply invested in identifying and rectifying sexual misconduct and committed to doing everything we can to prevent it in the future,” said Dartmouth’s Provost, Joseph Helble.
Some of those initiatives include additional funding to support hiring faculty with expertise in gender and racial discrimination and violence, and the college determining whether to add additional staff on campus from WISE, a group focused on ending gender-based violence, or providing $500,000 in support to the organization over a five year period.