A federal complaint filed against Yale University claims the Ivy League school violated the gender equity law Title IX multiple times between 2010 and 2015 by mishandling reports that one of its well-known professors, Thomas Pogge, harassed students.
Yale paid a former student, Fernanda Lopez Aguilar, $2,000 and instructed her to sign a gag order after she reported in 2010 that Pogge sexually harassed her, the federal complaint alleges. Years later, when multiple additional allegations were shared with Yale administrators detailing claims that Pogge acted inappropriately with other students, the university declined to investigate, saying it did not have jurisdiction, according to emails obtained by The Huffington Post.
The allegations, first reported by BuzzFeed on Friday and independently reviewed by The Huffington Post, were leveled against Yale in a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights by Lopez Aguilar and two other women in October 2015.
Pogge is a professor of philosophy and international affairs at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and holds appointments at the University of Oslo, King’s College London and the University of Central Lancashire.
In a statement sent to HuffPost on Sunday, Pogge denied Lopez Aguilar's claims, suggested she brought them after he declined to employ her in a program at Yale, and offered to pay for and take a polygraph test to prove his innocence.
"I am deeply grateful that, despite all the excoriation, no one else has brought forward a false charge – no one at Yale and no one at the 600+ academic venues I have visited since joining Yale," Pogge said. "I will continue to do what I can do, under the circumstances, to put these allegations to rest."
Yale declined to comment to HuffPost on Saturday.
"Unless these institutions are unveiled to the public, there tends to be little chance of helping them reform their antiquated and discriminatory norms," Lopez Aguilar told HuffPost.
The Huffington Post reviewed hundreds of pages of unredacted documents related to this case, which were gathered from multiple sources. HuffPost also spoke with several professors and graduate students with knowledge of the allegations against Pogge.
Lopez Aguilar, who received her bachelor's degree from Yale in May 2010, said in her complaint that Pogge planned to hire her to work in Yale's Global Justice Program, which he founded. According to documents submitted with the complaint, Pogge assured Lopez she would be paid for work in the GJP, writing, "we'll make it work out, don't worry. I even have a little money of my own." She was later listed on the GJP website as a fellow.
Lopez Aguilar began doing work for Pogge and GJP in the summer of 2010, she said. During a June 2010 trip to a Yale Law School conference in Chile, Lopez Aguilar said Pogge began acting inappropriately and flirting with her and suggested they share a hotel room.
One night during the trip, while Lopez Aguilar was sitting at a desk studying, Pogge slid in between the back of the chair and her body, straddling it, the complaint states. She said she felt his erection on her lower back and he groped her legs and breast. She left the room and when she returned, he did not speak to her.
Lopez Aguilar continued to do work for Pogge, but discovered in late August that Yale had no record of her being a GJP employee, her complaint said. She showed the university a letter of employment Pogge had written on Yale stationery to help her secure an apartment. Pogge emailed her that day and accused her of damaging his professional relationships, according to a copy of the email obtained by HuffPost. A week later he sent her another message: "After what happened I do not want GJP to receive further help from you, paid or unpaid."
"In retrospect, I believe that both of us were unnecessarily confrontational in our dispute and could and should have parted ways in a more civil manner," Pogge said in Sunday's statement.
Believing she'd been fired from GJP without ever receiving payment, Lopez Aguilar decided to report to Yale that Pogge sexually harassed her during the Chile trip. In December 2010, Yale offered to pay $2,000 to Lopez Aguilar -- money that she believed she was owed for work she performed over the summer. But she would be paid only if she signed an agreement to never bring a complaint or lawsuit over her claim that Pogge sexually harassed her or publicly discuss her allegations.
In spring 2011, the Education Department opened an investigation into an unrelated complaint that Yale violated Title IX in how it handled sexual assault and harassment. The news prompted Lopez Aguilar to speak anonymously to the student newspaper about a few details of her case. Shortly after that article, she said Yale officials reached out to her and offered to conduct a fuller investigation into her report that Pogge harassed her.
Pogge denied Lopez Aguilar's claims of misconduct and a Yale panel ultimately cleared him of sexual harassment, but faulted him for misuse of university stationery for writing Lopez Aguilar a fake letter of employment. It also noted in a report that Pogge "created an intimate and unprofessional atmosphere" with Lopez Aguilar and said "we question Prof. Pogge’s judgment." His punishment was a letter in his file, documents show.
Pogge claims that Lopez Aguilar's story has changed several times, and that he has evidence to show inconsistencies, but cannot share it.
"I must avoid anything that might be construed as retaliation against my accuser and I must respect the privacy of third parties who do not wish to be identified by name," Pogge said.
Lopez Aguilar then worked with attorney Ann Olivarius in 2012. Olivarius' firm began contacting female students who'd had negative experiences with Pogge for potential litigation. In spring 2014, Lopez Aguilar connected with a woman who wrote an anonymous blog post on Thought Catalog about her relationship with Pogge. The writer knew about female students at other universities with whom, she believed, Pogge had acted inappropriately. They decided to present the evidence, which included testimony from students Pogge had dated, to Yale.
Yale declined to investigate the new claims, according to emails obtained by HuffPost. It told the author of the blog post it did not have jurisdiction over alleged harassment of non-Yale students. The women filed a new complaint against Yale with the Education Department in October 2015, saying the university's decision not to investigate was the last act of a Title IX violation.
The department has not made a decision on whether it will investigate the case.
"After I internalized all that had transpired, all the injustices that had been committed not only against me but against every potential future victim of Pogge’s, I earned a sense of peace with coming forward, and necessity," Lopez Aguilar said.
Lopez Aguilar had previously filed a complaint over her case in 2011 after a group of 16 students successfully got the Education Department to open a Title IX investigation of Yale. At the time, the Education Department said it would transfer her complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, to be addressed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. In January 2012, the EEOC told her a new agent was reviewing her case, emails show.
But after a brief exchange in 2012, Lopez Aguilar did not hear back from the EEOC.
In late April, HuffPost contacted EEOC agents for an update on Lopez Aguilar's case against Yale. HuffPost received a response from an EEOC Enforcement Supervisor who said "I'll take care of this." That person then contacted Lopez Aguilar on May 9 and said that the EEOC would be closing the case because too much time had passed since the alleged incident, but that it would issue her a right to sue letter. (A person who claims discrimination must have this letter from the EEOC before they are allowed to file a lawsuit against an institution that allegedly wronged them.)
"The EEOC’s failure to respond to my complaint and the OCR’s attempt to redirect my complaint in the first place are both events that speak for themselves," Lopez Aguilar said.
EEOC declined to comment to HuffPost on its handling of the case.
Tyler Kingkade is a national reporter who covers higher education and sexual violence and is based in New York. You can reach him at email@example.com or find him on Twitter: @tylerkingkade.
- High Schools Are Failing Girls Who Report Sexual Assault
- Why Even Small, Progressive Grinnell College Has Trouble Dealing With Sexual Assault On Campus
- How A Stanford Student Accused Of Assaulting Multiple Women Graduated
- Columbia Students Reveal How The University Dragged Out Sexual Assault Investigations
- How Rolling Stone’s UVA Story Sparked A Controversial Frat Lobbying Effort
- In One Woman’s Sexual Assault Case, Police Succeeded Where Her College Failed
- This Common Response To Campus Sexual Assault Doesn’t Actually Protect Victims