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Paul Nungesser

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10 Jul, 2017

Columbia settles with Nungesser

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Columbia settles with Nungesser out of court for an unknown amount. Nungesser’s lawsuit contended the university had failed in its duty of care to protect him after the college investigation cleared him of the rape allegation. He stated that he faced discrimination because of Sulkowicz’s art project, and argued the university violated Title IX by allowing her to receive academic credit for a project that encouraged protest against a fellow student.

Columbia statement:

Paul Nungesser and Columbia University have agreed to settle the lawsuit he filed in 2015. While Paul was a student at Columbia, he was accused of sexual misconduct. In November 2013, after a diligent and thorough investigation, Paul was found not responsible for any misconduct. Columbia University stands by that finding. In 2015, Paul graduated from Columbia in good standing as a distinguished John Jay Scholar. John Jay Scholars, like Paul, are recognized for their remarkable academic and personal achievements, dynamism, intellectual curiosity, and original thinking. Paul is currently enrolled at an internationally recognized film school and has launched a career as a filmmaker. Columbia recognizes that after the conclusion of the investigation, Paul’s remaining time at Columbia became very difficult for him and not what Columbia would want any of its students to experience. Columbia will continue to review and update its policies toward ensuring that every student––accuser and accused, including those like Paul who are found not responsible––is treated respectfully and as a full member of the Columbia
community.

Nungesser lawyer:

We are very pleased with this settlement. Together with Paul and his parents, we have fought for three long years for a statement like the one Columbia released today. It gives Paul a chance to go on with his life and recover from the false accusation against him. We hope that the resolution of the case also ensures that no student will ever have to endure what Paul went through after he was exonerated.

Nungessers’s parents:

The scarlet letter that comes with an allegation of rape is virtually indelible, and that is why universities must take great care in their approach to these matters. This dark episode in Paul’s life will never fully disappear, but we are extremely happy that Paul can now fully focus on following his passion and talent as an aspiring filmmaker.

27 Mar, 2017

Nungesser’s suit dissmissed

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In a 46-page opinion, Judge Woods dismisses Nungesser’s second lawsuit alleging that the university violated his Title IX rights and two state laws in its handling of Sulkowicz’s mattress-toting campaign to have him expelled from campus. The case is dismissed “with prejudice,” meaning Nungesser is prohibited from filing a third suit on the same claims. Nungesser’s suit said Sulkowicz “enabled reporters to stalk [him], defamed him as a ‘serial rapist,’ and her campaign resulted in public intimidation, isolation on campus and receipt of threats against him.” He described himself “male victim of gender-based harassment” at a federally funded university that did nothing to intervene, a violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972.  Woods argued that there was no proof Sulkowicz’s actions were “motivated by gender” or that she deployed the term “serial rapist” as a gendered slur. As to his claim that harassment deprived him of educational opportunities at Columbia, Woods recognized that Nungesser’s “senior year at Columbia was neither pleasant nor easy,” but said the plaintiff’s case failed to meet the high bar set by Title IX for evidence. Nungesser’s lawyer:

We have carefully reviewed Judge Woods’ decision, and believe it to be erroneous in a number of critical areas. From the outset of this case, Judge Woods has been dead set against Paul Nungesser, which is further evidenced by his flawed reasoning in finding that the 101 page, extraordinarily detailed, Second Amended Complaint contains no viable causes of action. We are confident that the  U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit will reinstate the case.

25 Apr, 2016

Nungesser files second suit against Columbia

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Nungesser files a second complaint against Columbia The 100-page complaint again alleges Columbia participated in gender-based harassment, sexual harassment and gender-based misconduct against Nungesser that “was severe, pervasive and objectively offensive” and that deprived him of educational opportunities. Nungesser questions whether male and female students have the same rights, and whether “a false accusation [is] all it takes to lose any right to a normal life and a normal college experience. Complaint:

Columbia’s institutional practice is largely based on the stereotype of the active, voracious, aggressive male and the passive, restrained, non-aggressive woman, which is sex-based stereotyping and overgeneralization that is discriminatory and a clear violation of Title IX.

Nungesser is seeking damages and declaratory relief. Nungesser:

I sincerely hope that Judge Woods allows my case to move on to trial. While I personally would like to put this case behind me, I also think this complaint raises some fundamental questions that our society deserves answers to.

11 Mar, 2016

Case dismissed

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Manhattan District Judge Woods dismisses Nungesser’s case against Columbia University, saying Nungesser failed to show that Columbia discriminated against him based on his gender by allowing and condoning conduct during the 2014-2015 academic year by Sulkowicz. Woods says he did not suggest that Nungesser’s final year at Columbia was “pleasant or easy, but that Nungesser’s position would stretch Title IX too far, and could permit any students accused of sexual assault to sue their schools, so long as the schools knew of the allegations and failed to silence the accusers.

Neither the text nor the purpose of Title IX supports this conclusion.

He says Nungesser could replead his Title IX claim and some other claims, including under a New York state human rights law.

Columbia:

[This decision] brings us closer to the point that this litigation, addressing issues understandably difficult for many, can be concluded.

Nungesser’s lawyers:

While we’re disappointed with the judge’s ruling today, we believe that this is a very strong case and we will continue in our pursuit of justice for Mr. Nungesser.

10 Dec, 2015

Newsweek article

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Newsweek publishes a cover feature, The Other Side of The Sexual Assault Crisis, that includes an interview with Nungesser and his parents. His father on the graduation day:

I wondered…What would they do if they knew we were the parents of the guy Emma accused? What would they do? Would they spit in front of us?

Mother:

I would have liked to go to every single parent in that audience and say, ‘I am the mother of Paul, and I am very proud of my son, and I hope you discuss with your sons and daughters what they did to him.’

Nungesser:

My faith in justice has been so fundamentally shaken, that I’m hoping by going forth and putting this into a court of law there’s going to be someone who says this behavior that occurred here was [an] injustice. What happened to me…could happen to any other college male. Institutions are capable of intense cruelty without even realizing what they’re doing.

Threatens to sue Newsweek

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Sulkowicz threatens to sue Newsweek over its story about campus rape.

Paul Nungesser’s complaint is filled with lies…. I want to warn you to be conscientious about what you publish as ‘fact’ for I may work with a lawyer to rectify any inaccuracies and misrepresentations.

28 Aug, 2015

Columbia asks for case dismissal

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Columbia University asks for Nungesser’s case to be dismissed on First Amendment grounds.

Crediting an undergraduate student’s thesis on the issue of sexual assault on college campuses is a decision at the heart of academic freedom. [Courts should not] second guess the kinds of decisions made by professors and administrators at Columbia in applying disciplinary and academic policies.

The school says it asked Sulkowicz not to take her mattress to the graduation, but there wasn’t much it could do when she showed up with one anyway.

Taking action against Ms. Sulkowicz by literally grabbing the mattress out of her hands would have disrupted the ceremony for all the graduating students and their families and could have been dangerous given the space limitations and the size of the crowd.

Nungesser’s lawyers:

In this instance, the disciplinary system worked correctly at Columbia. That still was not enough to save an innocent person from the wave of public sentiment regarding assaults on campus. Paul Nungesser quickly became a convenient scapegoat, a whipping boy, and Columbia not only stood idly by, but often participated in the attacks on Paul Nungesser. There is no amount of legal theory that can save Columbia from that reality.

22 Jul, 2015

Nungesser amends complaint

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Nungesser amends his complaint against Columbia (document) with extra details, including that he repeatedly contacted the university to find out if Sulkowicz would be allowed to carry the mattress to his graduation:

In the weeks and months before graduation, Paul reached out repeatedly to Columbia administrators, requesting detailed information regarding whether Defendant Columbia would allow Emma to carry the mattress at the graduation ceremony. Despite repeated requests, Defendant Columbia refused to provide him with any information…

The complaint says that Sulkowicz asked twice to take the mattress to the graduation, and was denied, but that she took it anyway and the university did not stop her. The complaint also mentions threats against Nungesser by Sulkowicz (“it’s not safe for him to be on this campus”) and her friends, and says that the male student that Nungesser was cleared of touching is going to produce an interpretative dance about his claim.

26 Jun, 2015

Pre-trial summary letter

Makes Statement2 Comments

Both sides submit a letter (text) to the court summarizing the arguments they plan to raise in advance of a July 1 pre-trial hearing. Nungessers lawyer’s expand on their original claims, saying  that despite Nuingesser being cleared by the University, Columbia did not curtail Sulkowicz’s activities, and actually honored her:

Emma’s time and indeed her academic work at Columbia has largely been defined by her part in the gender based anti-male discriminatory harassment campaign against Plaintiff Nungesser[;] these honors constitute yet another instant of Defendant Columbia directly rewarding, encouraging and celebrating Emma Sulkowicz’s role in the gender based discriminatory harassment.

They also say Columbia allowed Sulkowicz to display pornographic material that had Nungesser’s name attached to it in an art exhibition, and allowed Sulkowicz to carry the mattress to her (and Nungesser’s) graduation:

At the graduation ceremony, Emma Sulkowicz was given a special university privilege contrary to the rules by Defendant Columbia to carry the mattress to her and Plaintiff Nungesser’s graduation in another instance of Defendant Columbia perpetrated gender based discriminatory harassment of Plaintiff Nungesser

They also claim that Columbia allowed Sulkowicz to:

 build a public persona surrounding her false allegations, which has led to the posting of videos and other proposed performances depicting Plaintiff Nungesser as a rapist.

Columbia’s attorneys do not rebut any of Nungesser’s claims, and while the school acknowledges that Sulkowicz’s campus activism made her a major figure in the sexual assault debate, it claims she was an independent third-party actor, and the school cannot be held responsible or liable for her conduct. The letter concludes by saying both sides are open to a pre-trial settlement.

28 May, 2015

Lays down mattress

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After nine months Sulkowicz completes her performance art project, laying the mattress to rest in her parents living room, with the intent to later sell the art piece to a museum. With Nungesser and herself having both graduated, she says that she has no further use for the mattress.

I’m not going to just throw it away. It tells of all the times when things didn’t really go according to plan and all the f-cked-up things that happened. People think I was supposed to have this warlike relationship with it and it was supposed to be this object that I was angry with, but for me, that related to how people chose to read my piece rather than the way I lived with it … I have a scenario planned for the exhibition of my piece…If some sort of museum wants to buy it, then I’m open to that. But I’m not going to just throw it away.

Sulkowicz’s ideal scenario for exhibiting the piece includes the mattress, the collection of plastic bed-wetting sheets that protected it in the rain, instructions to re-create the “Rules of Engagement” she had painted on her studio wall, and a 59,000 word diary that tracked her experiences.

It [the diary] tells of all the times when things didn’t really go according to plan and all the f-cked-up things that happened. It’s the real record of the piece…To me, the piece has very much represented [the fact that] a guy did a horrible thing to me and I tried to make something beautiful out of it…I’ve had the most crazy two years of my life, so I’m ready to go incognito and try to make a life where not everyone is recognizing me. Maybe I’ll change my hair color.

Josie: I Am Not a ‘Pretty Little Liar’

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In an anonymous posting to Jezebel, one of Nungesser’s alleged victims tells more about her case and defends herself:

When I filed the complaint against Paul, I didn’t know it would turn into a national event. It was over a year before Emma started carrying that weight, months before what happened at Columbia helped sparked a national dialogue about rape on college campus. I was just trying to do the right thing.

The incident happened my junior year at Columbia, when Paul followed me upstairs at a party, came into a room with me uninvited, closed the door behind us, and grabbed me. I politely said, “Hey, no, come on, let’s go back downstairs.” He didn’t listen. He held me close to him as I said no, and continued to pull me against him. I pushed him off and left the room quickly. I told a few friends and my boyfriend at the time how creepy and weird it was. I tried to find excuses for his behavior. I did a decent job of pushing it out of my mind.

The anonymous student says that when Nungesser was given an appeal, she—having already graduated—withdrew from the process because she felt frustrated with “Columbia’s incompetence’ as the appeals process began.

20 May, 2015

‘Not responsible’ for male sex assault

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Nungesser is found “not responsible” for any sexual assault on Adam, his alleged male victim, due to contradictions within Adam’s account and to Facebook exchanges between the two men. Adam had alleged that during a private conversation between the two men, in response to “relationship troubles” between him and his then-girlfriend (the “Natalie” who would later accuse Nungesser of assault) Nungesser massaged Adam’s back and shoulder and then gently pushed him down and massaged his crotch for approximately two to three minutes, while he was frozen in shock. Nungesser said that there was no sexual contact between the two during this conversation.

Additionally, the Alpha Delta Phi officer known as “Leila” who testified on behalf of Adam is the same person who wrote an email to the ADP listserv calling for Nungesser’s resignation and allegedly encouraged other members to come forward against Nungesser. Investigators:

At the time of the Complainant’s initial disclosure, at least several of his close friends and co-fraternity members were engaged in a process intended to evict the Respondent from the fraternity house.

Nungesser parents criticize ‘public witch-hunt’

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Nungesser’s parents make a statement about their son’s graduation.

Our son’s graduation should have been a joyous moment for our whole family. We are extremely proud of Paul for graduating, even more so because of the harassment campaign he was subjected to. For over two years, he had to fight false accusations and a public witch-hunt, even though Columbia and the NYPD exonerated him. At graduation, Columbia University again broke its own rules and afforded Emma Sulkowicz a special exception. It was the second devastating experience in just a few days: Last week, Columbia exhibited Emma Sulkowicz’s highly disturbing and extremely graphic drawings of our son publicly on campus…A university that bows to a public witch-hunt no longer deserves to be called a place of enlightenment, of intellectual and academic freedom. By failing to intervene in this injustice, Columbia ceases to be a place where critical thinking, courage and democratic practice are taught, learned and lived.

19 May, 2015

Carries mattress to graduation

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Ten minutes after Nungesser’s graduation, Sulkowicz walks across Columbia College Class Day stage with her mattress, despite a provision barring large items that was added to administrative guidelines sent by email to seniors the day before the event.

Graduates should not bring into the ceremonial area large objects which could interfere with the proceedings or create discomfort to others in close, crowded spaces shared by thousands of people.

Nungesser’s lawyer says that Columbia’s acceptance of Sulkowicz’s graduation stunt was “absurd” and would help her client’s case.

This goes beyond mere facilitation; they have now granted a special exception

Emma Sulkowicz, CC '15, walks across Columbia College Class Day stage with mattress

24 Apr, 2015

Files suit against Columbia

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Nungesser files suit against Columbia, saying that by allowing Sulkowicz to receive course credit for her protest, the school violated Title IX, a 1972 law mandating that federally funded education programs cannot discriminate against people based on sex. The suit alleges the university is complicit in allowing the harassment to commence, and did nothing to stop it, which according to the suit:

significantly damaged, if not effectively destroyed Paul Nungesser’s college experience, his reputation, his emotional well-being and his future career prospects.

The 54-page complaint includes more Facebook messages than were included in the Daily Beast article, including declarations of Sulkowicz’s love for Nungesser before and after the alleged rape. The lawsuit says Sulkowicz tried to get other women to accuse Nungesser of sexual assault, and that just days after Sulkowicz’s appeal was denied, she began getting advice from a publicist and Nungesser began being followed by the media. The accusers shared Nungesser’s name to a Columbia student reporter, and to the New York Post, despite a confidentiality agreement with Columbia. Nungesser’s lawyer:

Here, Columbia University, as an institution, was not only silent, but actively and knowingly supported attacks on Paul Nungesser, after having determined his innocence, legitimizing a fiction. Emma Sulkowicz is merely a footnote to this story, we already know that she cleverly crafted a story and rode it to celebrity on the back on [sic] someone found not responsible.

Sulkowicz responds:

It’s ridiculous that Paul would sue not only the school but one of my past professors for allowing me to make an art piece. [It is] ridiculous that he would read it as a ‘bullying strategy,’ especially given his continued public attempts to smear my reputation, when really it’s just an artistic expression of the personal trauma I’ve experienced at Columbia.

6 Feb, 2015

Fourth, male, victim revealed

Accusation3 Comments

The Jezebel article also mentions that there is a fourth Nungesser victim, Adam, who says that he was close friends with Paul during his freshman year in 2011. Adam claims that, in the midst of an emotional conversation in Nungesser’s dorm room, he was pushed onto his bed and sexually assaulted. He claims that after much self-doubt and internal struggle, he finally reported this incident, first to a student society to which both he and Nungesser belonged and then in a formal complaint to the university in the fall of 2014.

Rebuts Facebook messages

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Jezebel posts Sulkowicz’s rebuttal to the Facebook messages provided by Nungesser. Sulkowicz:

It is extremely upsetting that Paul would violate me again—this time, with the help of a reporter, Cathy Young. I just wanted to fix the problem of sexual assault on campus—I never wanted this to be an excuse for people to dig through my private Facebook messages and frame them in a way as to cast doubt on my character. It’s unfair and disgusting that Paul and Cathy would treat personal life as a mine that they can dig through and harvest for publicity and Paul’s public image.

This is why I have chosen to release the full conversation, plus the context in which things were said. I want people to have all the information so that they can make informed decisions for themselves, rather than seeing a redacted version of the conversation with bits and pieces picked out to make me look a certain way.

If I had a choice, no one would see my private Facebook messages at all. However, Paul and Cathy have put me in a position where I either do nothing, and they publish the conversation, or I take the lead and publish it on my own. It’s the only thing I can do to maintain a modicum of control over my private life, which becomes more public by the second, thanks to reporters who don’t treat me with respect.