Harvard Files to Throw Out Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

In a series of filings, Harvard moved to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Alyssa R. Leader ’15 alleging widespread misconduct by College and University administrators in handling her sexual assault case.

The lawsuit, filed by Leader in February, charges that Harvard acted with “deliberate indifference” when it investigated her sexual assault complaint. On Monday, Harvard responded to Leader’s suit, arguing that Leader’s claims do not amount to any kind of legal violation or injury.

To the contrary, Harvard argued, the University took a number of steps—delineated by Leader herself—to investigate her sexual assault and provide support services.

“It is not sufficient to allege, as Leader does here, that Harvard failed to accept her particular remedial demands or that it failed to perform an investigation consistent with her specifications,” Harvard’s filing reads.

Recounting Leader’s alleged version of events in its own brief, the filing emphasizes that Harvard “immediately initiated an investigation,” interviewing Leader, Doe, and 17 other witnesses and offering Leader “extensive interim remedies.” While many of Leader’s allegations are “internally inconsistent,” the filing reads, “even if the Court adopts the version of facts most favorable to Leader, her allegations do not show ‘deliberate indifference.’”


Similarly, Harvard challenged Leader’s argument that Harvard had not only violated Title IX but also Massachusetts common law. In the filing, Harvard defended itself against Leader’s charges that the University was negligent in its duty to protect her and other students from sexual assault, arguing that Leader did not plausibly allege that Doe’s actions were “reasonably foreseeable” or that the University failed to maintain a safe environment.

Alex S. Zalkin, Leader’s attorney, could not be reached for comment.

Beyond the motion to dismiss the suit wholesale, the University also motioned to strike a number of individual claims that Leader made in the initial filing. In particular, Harvard took issue with the suit’s “irrelevant allegations concerning administrative guidance documents promulgated by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights” and the federal Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act. These guidance documents and the federal act do not apply the in this case because they “do not carry the force of law,” Harvard argued.

“These allegations are thus irrelevant to Leader’s claims, and their inclusion will serve only to confuse and dilute the applicable standards of liability and add extraneous and costly discovery to the litigation. They must therefore be stricken from the complaint,” Harvard’s filing reads.

Harvard also moved to strike from Leader’s complaint references to a separate investigation into Harvard Law School’s sexual harassment policies, writing that these policies “have absolutely nothing to do with this case.”

In its motions to dismiss and strike, Harvard also requested to present its case in oral arguments to the judge, Denise J. Casper.

Harvard College’s compliance with Title IX is currently under investigation by the federal government.

—Staff writer Andrew M. Duehren can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @aduehren.

—Staff writer Daphne C. Thompson can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @daphnectho.


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