In April, Columbia University student Paul Nungesser filed suit against the school, claiming that the school had allowed “the gender-based harassment and defamation” of Nungesser by not stopping fellow student Emma Sulkowicz from publicly accusing him of sexual assault. In a new court filing, Nungesser’s attorney says Sulkowicz engaged in a “gender based anti-male discriminatory harassment campaign.”
The two sides are set to hold a pre-trial status conference in the case on July 1. In advance of that meeting, Nungesser’s attorney Philip A. Byler and an attorney for Columbia, Robert A. Kaplan, submitted a joint letter outlining their basic arguments, the things they’ve yet to present, and their progress on the case. The filing was spotted and posted online by Jacob Gershman, a legal affairs reporter for the Wall Street Journal.
Byler and Andrew Miltenberg, another attorney at the same firm, Nesenoff & Miltenberg, are making their name in helping male students fight sexual assault allegations; increasingly, they’re also filing suit against the schools themselves, alleging gender bias. (Miltenberg recently represented Xiaolu Peter Yu, a male student suing Vassar College after he was found responsible for sexual assault and expelled; the suit was dismissed.)
In his statement in the joint letter, Byler says that Columbia supported the “hostile educational environment” against Nungesser by allowing Sulkowicz to carry her mattress (an act that culminated at her graduation) and display photos at an art show on campus that made reference to the alleged assault. All of it is part of her anti-male campaign against him, Byler writes:
Plaintiff Nungesser also intends to cross-move to supplement the Complaint with post-filing events that further support his Amended Complaint pursuant to Rule 15(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. First, from May 11, 2015 to May 15, 2015, Defendant Columbia had on display Emma Sulkowicz’s pornographic prints at the Columbia University Visual Arts Program in the Leroy Neimann Gallery in the Dodge Building on Defendant Columbia’s campus. The pornographic prints were printed over as well as next to two New York Times articles previously published about Emma Sulkowicz’s false allegations against Plaintiff Nungesser. Due to the articles identifying Paul by his full name, to any reasonable viewer of the prints, these prints portrayed Paul engaged in sexual assault and in explicit pornographic images.
Second, on May 20, 2015, 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. Defendant Columbia also awarded Emma Sulkowicz Magna Cum Laude honors, which is not based on grade point average; with 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. Third, Defendant Columbia actively enabling of Emma 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.
(Sulkowicz actually carried her mattress onstage in defiance of a letter from the Columbia administration warning students not to bring “large objects” to commencement.)
Columbia, meanwhile, says that while Sulkowicz did garner a large amount of attention for her art project, they didn’t condone it and they’re not responsible for it:
While Defendants do not contest that Ms. Sulkowicz did in fact become a prominent figure in the context of sexual assault on college campuses, Defendants deny that they are responsible or liable for her conduct, as alleged in the Amended Complaint.
Columbia also argues that since Nungesser graduated in May in good standing, that should negate any need for injunctive relief, something else he’s demanding in the suit. His lawyers say otherwise, arguing that he’s fighting on behalf of discriminated-against men accused of sexual assault at Columbia and elsewhere. They’re asking that the school be found in violation of Title IX, the federal anti-sex discrimination law:
Plaintiff Nungesser believes that his graduation does not change the need for finding the Defendants in violation of Title IX and state law so that universities recognize a duty to protect exonerated male students from discriminatory harassment and that relief is provided that remedies to the extent possible the effects of the discriminatory harassment.”
Nungesser is alleging that he suffered harm to his “physical well-being, emotional and psychological damages, damages to reputation, past and future economic losses, loss of educational and athletic opportunities, and loss of future career prospects.” He hasn’t specified how much he is seeking in damages.
Sulkowicz, friends and mattress onstage. Screengrab via Columbia Spectator/YouTube