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Lawsuit alleges Dartmouth professors ran '21st Century Animal House,' raped students

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Seven current and former Dartmouth students are suing the school, alleging the Ivy League institution ignored years of sexual harassment and assault claims against professors. (Image source: YouTube screenshot)

A $70 million lawsuit has been filed against the trustees of Dartmouth College, alleging that the institution ignored sexual assault complaints against three of its faculty members for years.

Former tenured professors Todd Heatherton, William Kelley, and Paul Whalen are accused of running the school's Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences as a "21st Century Animal House" — and two of them allegedly raped students.

What are the details?

Attorneys representing seven plaintiffs filed suit in federal court on Thursday, saying the Ivy League institution knew about sexual assault and sexual harassment claims made against the professors for over 16 years, but repeatedly refused to take action to protect the students.

The lawsuit names former department Chair Todd Heatherton as the ring leader of a "predatory club" that encouraged binge drinking, and treated female students "as sex objects."

In the 72-page complaint, Heatherton is accused of grabbing a student's breast, groping students' buttocks, and pulling a student onto his lap asking what she was "going to be doing later that night."

Kelley is accused of raping and harassing a graduate student, buying alcohol for minor students, texting unsolicited naked pictures of himself — including images of his penis — to a female student, and bragging that he previously snorted cocaine in class during addiction demonstrations.

Whalen is accused of raping a student at his home, pinning a student against a wall in his office while trying to reach into her pants, and groping a student on the buttocks.

All three professors are accused of ignoring professional boundaries, pressuring students to binge drink with them late into the night, making inappropriate comments about students' physical attractiveness, and academically punishing students who refused their advances.

The plaintiffs allege that in spite of repeatedly reporting instances of abuse from the professors, Dartmouth ignored the claims and even continued to promote the accused faculty members while punishing students who participated in Title IX investigations.

In response to the Title IX complaint filed in April 2017, Dartmouth hired attorney Jennifer Davis to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations. As a result of that probe, Kelley and Whalen resigned. Heatherton was on sabbatical during the investigation and retired in June; all three men are now banned from campus.

How did the accused respond?

Dartmouth issued a statement to CNN saying, "We applaud the courage displayed by members of our community within the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences who brought the misconduct allegations to Dartmouth's attention last year. And we remain open to a fair resolution of the students' claims through an alternative to the court process.

"However," school officials continued, "we respectfully, but strongly, disagree with the characterizations of Dartmouth's actions in the complaint and will respond through our own court filings."

A statement from Heatherton to CNN on Thursday said that he was "extremely concerned about being grouped together with the other professors," pointing out that most of the allegations made in the lawsuit were against Kelley and Whalen, who did not respond to the requests for comment.

Heatherton added that "he had no knowledge of the specific allegations that were made about them" and that "he did not engage in the general patterns of conduct they are accused of."

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