Judge Throws Out Philosophy Professor’s Lawsuit Against Northwestern

[Updated (2/6/2015, 10:58 p.m.) with additional information about the earlier investigations, as noted in the judge's order.]

A federal judge on Thursday threw out a lawsuit against Northwestern University filed by Peter Ludlow, a professor of philosophy who had accused the university of defamation and gender discrimination in its handling of sexual-harassment investigations involving him in 2012 and 2014.

The 2012 investigation concerned a complaint filed by an undergraduate student who had accused the professor of getting her drunk and sexually assaulting her. Mr. Ludlow denied the student’s allegations. A university investigation found that the student’s more serious claims could not be substantiated but did find that Mr. Ludlow had violated Northwestern’s sexual-harassment policy, according to a court order filed on Thursday by Judge Sara L. Ellis of the U.S. District Court in Chicago.

The 2014 investigation dealt with a complaint filed by a graduate student who, according to Mr. Ludlow’s complaint, had been in a romantic relationship with the professor two years before. (Judge Ellis writes that the facts in the background section of her order are taken from Mr. Ludlow’s complaint and are presumed true for the purpose of resolving the defendants’ motions to dismiss.) That investigation also found insufficient evidence to support a specific claim of inappropriate conduct, the order states, but it did find that the professor had violated Northwestern’s policy against sexual harassment.

In his lawsuit against Northwestern, filed last June, Mr. Ludlow accused the university of violating Title IX, the federal law banning gender discrimination in education, in its handling of the investigations. He also contended that comments made by several university officials regarding those investigations had defamed him and placed him in a false light.

In her ruling on Thursday (Case 1:14-cv-04614), Judge Ellis dismissed both claims. She said that Mr. Ludlow had not sufficiently demonstrated that the alleged discrimination had any connection to his gender, and that the statements alleged to be defamatory either were “not highly offensive” or were “substantially true.”

Alan K. Cubbage, a spokesman for Northwestern, said in an email on Thursday evening that the university had argued since the lawsuit was filed that it had no merit. “The federal court today ruled that to be the case,” he said.

The undergraduate student who filed the 2012 complaint had also accused Northwestern of violating Title IX in its handling of her case. A federal judge threw out that lawsuit in November.

Mr. Ludlow and the undergraduate have also filed lawsuits against each other in Illinois state courts.

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