One of three former Dartmouth College professors at the center of a $70 million, class action sexual harassment lawsuit has denied some of the allegations against him.
On Thursday, seven current and former female students sued Dartmouth for failing to take action to protect them from Todd Heatherton, William Kelley and Paul Whalen, who were professors in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.
They claimed that the men groped them, pressured them to consume dangerous amounts of alcohol, sent them lewd messages, and in two cases forced students to have sex against their will, according to the lawsuit.
None of the professors are named as defendants in the lawsuit, although the Attorney General’s office has an open criminal investigation into the matter.
Heatherton has so far been the only one of the three to respond publicly to the suit.
“Professor Heatherton categorically denies playing any role in creating a toxic environment at Dartmouth College,” his lawyer, Julie Moore, wrote in a statement. “The specific allegations in the lawsuit predominantly involve the other professors and their relationships with students. None of the complaining parties were his graduate students. He is disturbed by the graphic allegations.”
In the suit, plaintiff Sasha Brietzke claims that she and Heatherton attended a karaoke event after a work conference in March 2017.
“Heatherton grabbed Ms. Brietzke and groped her buttocks,” according to the lawsuit. “He then grabbed her waist and pulled her into his lap and asked her what she was ‘going to be doing later that night.’ Shocked and terrified, Ms. Brietzke jumped from his lap and left the venue.”
Heatherton said he regrets his behavior that night but denies that it was a “sexual touching.”
“My actions at the karaoke bar in San Francisco on St. Patrick’s Day 2017 were unprofessional and I deeply regret touching the graduate student,” he said in his statement.
Dartmouth allowed Heatherton to retire earlier this year after an internal investigation. Kelley and Whalen were allowed to resign.
Heatherton also denied several other allegations in the lawsuit, including a claim that he used an ethnic slur offensive to Jews and that he touched a graduate student’s breast in 2002. The touching, according to his statement, was accidental.
He did acknowledge that in 2002 he slapped “the buttocks of two individuals” but described it as “a poor attempt at humor. Neither individual viewed it differently or as sexual conduct.”
For the most part, Heatherton seemed to place the blame on Kelley and Whalen, writing that he is “extremely concerned about being grouped together with the other professors.”