Graduate Students Reach Settlement in Lawsuit Over Escobedo Sexual Harassment

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ATHENS — Two women who sued after a sexual harassment investigation of a former English professor have reached a settlement with Ohio University.

Andrew Escobedo

The university announced the settlement Wednesday evening, between Christine Adams, Susanna Hempstead, Ohio University and Faculty Senate President and English professor Joseph McLaughlin.

The lawsuit, filed in March 2017, alleged Title IX violations against the university and civil rights violations in connection to the sexual harassment investigation that found substantiated claims against Dr. Andrew Escobedo.

Escobedo was under investigation by the university after allegations that he had non-consensual sexual contact and had sexually harassed graduate students were substantiated by OU’s Office of Equity and Civil Rights Compliance. In the report from the ECRC, the women, including Adams and Hempstead, said they feared academic and professional consequences if they rebuked Escobedo’s advances.

After being recommended for detenuring and requesting a hearing before the Faculty Senate, the professor resigned before the hearing could take place.

The settlement reached will bring Adams and Hempstead $335,000 each, with a portion of the settlement going to their attorney, Michael L. Fradin.

“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,” a written statement from Fradin stated. “This settlement marks a small step in what will be a lifelong healing process for both of them.”

Also, as part of the settlement, the women may at their discretion “participate in the university’s efforts to combat sexual violence on its Athens campus” by working with the Office of Equity and Civil Rights Compliance and/or OU’s Presidential Advisory Council on Sexual Misconduct, according to settlement documents.

With the settlement, the lawsuit filed with the United States District Court for the Southern District Eastern Division of Ohio is dismissed. In the settlement, however, the university “expressly denies” wrongdoing.

“In reaching a legal settlement, we acknowledge the challenges these survivors have endured, and will continue to endure,” the university stated in a release. “We recognize this is a small step in the healing process.”

This is the second civil settlement given to Hempstead and Adams regarding the Escobedo investigation. The first settlement, specifically seeking damages from Escobedo, was settled privately, keeping the details private as well.

The release from the university offered reporting options “if you believe you have been the victim of discrimination, harassment, including sexual assault, retaliation,” along with the contacts for the Ohio University Police Department, ECRC, and the Survivor Advocacy Program.

In responding to the settlement, Hempstead and Adams “acknowledged the suffering of the other survivors” who reported their experiences to ECRC during the Escobedo investigation.

“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,” the women said in a statement from their attorney.

WOUB reached out to attorneys representing the university, Escobedo and McLaughlin (who was represented by university counsel), but has yet to receive comment.

This story was clarified to include details of the first settlement, and specify the parties in the lawsuit.

Related Stories:

Escobedo Case Referred for Detenuring Consideration

Escobedo Case: Attorneys Spar Over Witness, Another Begins Civil Rights Fight

OU President Initiates Dismissal Process Against Escobedo

Professor Requests Faculty Hearing on Dismissal

Escobedo Will Be Paid OU Employee Until November