Two Ohio University graduate students last Friday settled a federal civil lawsuit against former Ohio University professor Andrew Escobedo – whom they had accused of sexually touching them without their consent and sexual harassment.
On that same day, The NEWS has learned, Escobedo sent a letter to his former colleagues in OU’s English Department acknowledging, for the first time, his responsibility for harm he caused to those two students, Susanna Hempstead and Christine Adams.
Despite the settlement of the lawsuit against Escobedo, the rest of the students’ suit against OU and former English Department chair (and current Faculty Senate chair) Joseph McLaughlin remains pending. That suit alleges that OU and McLaughlin were “deliberately indifferent” to signs of Escobedo’s past sexual misconduct.
Attorneys for the two students and Escobedo filed a motion Friday asking that the students’ claims against Escobedo be dismissed due to a settlement being reached. U.S. District Judge Algenon L. Marbley granted the dismissal.
Escobedo resigned on Nov. 1, 2017 after accusations of sexual misconduct from multiple students in separate incidents. OU’s Title IX compliance office (the Office for Equity and Civil Rights, or ECRC) had found in December 2016, through a preponderance of evidence standard, that more likely than not Escobedo had sexually touched and harassed the two graduate students without their consent multiple times during an end-of-semester party in December 2015.
In the letter to his former colleagues sent Friday last week, Escobedo said he wishes to acknowledge “my responsibility regarding the events of December 2015.”
“I acknowledge the humiliation, anguish and emotional trauma my actions caused Ms. Adams and Ms. Hempstead,” Escobedo said. “I acknowledge the considerable time lost to Ms. Adams and Ms. Hempstead’s education at Ohio University. I also acknowledge their loss of future professional opportunities. I acknowledge that Ohio University’s ECRC Memorandum of Findings represents the university’s official statement about the events of December 2015. I further acknowledge that Ms. Hempstead and Ms. Adams did not participate in a conspiracy of any kind against me.
“I hope this acknowledgment letter begins the long process of addressing the harm to the Ohio University academic community, specifically the graduate students in the English Department,” Escobedo concluded. “This letter is a small step, but I hope it helps as Ohio University works to move forward.”
Previously, Escobedo had maintained that the university’s ECRC investigation findings were “fundamentally flawed,” and said that a professor’s “reputation and livelihood should not be ruined because of misrepresentations and mean-spirited accusations based on rumor and gossip.”
Michael Fradin, the Athens-based lawyer for Hempstead and Adams, declined to disclose any details of the settlement when reached Tuesday.
“The plaintiffs have settled with defendant Escobedo,” Fradin said. “We continue to pursue the civil-rights actions against Ohio University and Joseph McLaughlin, which remain pending in federal court in Columbus and are currently in the discovery stage of the litigation process.”
The ECRC office’s December 2016 investigation report concluded that, more likely than not, Escobedo sexually touched the two graduate students without their consent multiple times during and after an end-of-semester celebration at two bars in uptown Athens in December 2015.
The report also concluded that Escobedo sexually harassed those two women, along with sexually harassing two other students in similar incidents in 2003 and 2005.
Meanwhile, the ECRC office completed a different investigation in December 2017 that found credible an English faculty member’s claims that Escobedo pressed his body against her and attempted to kiss her multiple times without her consent during an off-campus incident outside an Athens bar in 2011, while serving as that then-untenured faculty’s member’s tenure advocate.
The university and McLaughlin filed a motion to dismiss the claims for a lack of merit in August last year; in March 2018, Judge Marbley dismissed four of the students’ 10 counts against OU and two of the four counts against McLaughlin, but allowed the lawsuit to go forward otherwise.
Since that time, the process of discovery has continued between the parties, and, according to a filing submitted by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine (OU is being represented by private counsel and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office) in mid-July, the parties are engaged in “serious settlement negotiations,” with a mediation session earlier in July.
“Plaintiffs and defendants Ohio University and McLaughlin continue working toward a possible mediated resolution,” the filing reads.
Judge Marbley agreed to set a new timeline for the case, with discovery to close on Jan. 28, 2019.
OU had paid the law firm Newhouse, Prophater, Kolman & Hogan, LLC, almost $85,000 as of May 17 to represent it in this case, and that amount likely has increased since then.
Escobedo announced in August 2017 that he would resign from OU as of November 2017, not long before he was scheduled to attend a hearing before OU’s Faculty Senate. That hearing was one of the last steps the university had planned to take in its attempt to de-tenure and fire Escobedo, an effort that started in February 2017.
At the time of Escobedo announcing his resignation, OU President Nellis sent a letter to the campus community reaffirming OU’s “commitment to protect the safety and well-being” of students, faculty and staff.
“Brave women and other people in our community stepped forward to bring intolerable behavior to light,” Nellis said. “The healing process I envision is not one that will dim this light but rather intensify our efforts to ensure our community is a safe place to learn and work.”