NEW YORK (AP) - A former New York University graduate student has sued a prominent professor, alleging she turned his dream of working with a world-class scholar “into more than three years of continuous and unabated sexual harassment, sexual assault and stalking.”
The lawsuit was filed by Nimrod Reitman in state Supreme Court in Manhattan on Wednesday against the university and professor Avital Ronell. It said NYU failed to take action after Reitman told a vice provost about the misconduct while he was still a student.
Last summer, two years after Reitman graduated, he made a formal complaint, and the university opened an investigation.
The staff of NYU’s Title IX office took Reitman’s reports of sexual misconduct “very seriously,” university spokesman John Beckman said. It concluded Reitman was a victim of sexual harassment and suspended Ronell for a year while determining that any meetings she has with students in the future must be supervised, he said.
“We have tried to work with Mr. Reitman to help him put this unfortunate chapter behind him, and we are sympathetic to what he has been through,” Beckman said in a statement. “However, given the promptness, seriousness, and thoroughness with which we responded to his charges, we do not believe that his filing a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the University would be warranted or just.”
Beckman said the university was still investigating whether he was retaliated against and “additional sanctions” were possible.
Ronell didn’t respond to an email from The Associated Press on Thursday. But earlier this week, before the lawsuit was filed, she told The New York Times that she didn’t harass Reitman.
“Our communications - which Reitman now claims constituted sexual harassment - were between two adults, a gay man and a queer woman, who share an Israeli heritage, as well as a penchant for florid and campy communications arising from our common academic backgrounds and sensibilities,” she said. “These communications were repeatedly invited, responded to and encouraged by him over a period of three years.”
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, says Reitman suffered humiliation, reputational harm, mental anguish and physical distress.
Ronell, a world-renowned academic and author, is a professor of German and comparative literature at NYU. She has lectured at universities around the world and received many prestigious awards and fellowships.
The lawsuit said Ronell began harassing Reitman even before he moved from Berlin to New York to begin his studies.
After Reitman organized an event at Tel Aviv University in 2012 centered around Ronell’s new book, she began making phone calls to him that lasted hours as she discussed mostly personal subjects, the lawsuit said.
Soon, she invited him to stay with her in Paris, where she pulled him into her bed and kissed him, the lawsuit said. She reacted angrily when Reitman reminded her he was gay and in a relationship with someone else, it added.
The lawsuit said Ronell “created a fictitious romantic relationship between herself and her student Reitman, and asserted complete domination and control over his life, both inside and outside of his academic endeavors, repeatedly and forcibly groping, touching, and kissing him on a regular basis.”
It said she also demanded he communicate with her in “over-the-top, effusive language, including that he constantly express his love for her, and his failure to do so would result in Ronell angrily reprimanding him and refusing to work with him.”
“Reitman had no romantic feelings toward Ronell but was coerced into participating in her delusions,” the lawsuit said.
After Reitman received his doctorate in 2015, Ronell punished him for “leaving” her by sabotaging his efforts to get a teaching position, the lawsuit said.
Reitman said he was inspired by women who have “shared their stories and ignited the #MeToo movement.”
“It was never my intention to be part of that extraordinary movement, but if my story can help stop this from happening to other students or if my story helps others feel like they are not alone, then I am glad to have spoken,” he said in a statement.
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