Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Laura Kipnis and Harper Collins have been sued

I have just learned that the graduate student Laura Kipnis discusses at length in Unwanted Advances has sued both Kipnis and the book's publisher, Harper Collins. She's suing for public disclosure of private facts, false light invasion of privacy, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

As I mentioned in a comment in a recent post here, I do believe that Kipnis dramatically misrepresented the student in dishonest and harmful ways. I am not surprised that there is a lawsuit alleging this. All of my blogging so far has bracketed those issues, since getting into the details of the misrepresentations would involve further violations of privacy. I have been trying to make the case that even if the specific evidence she cites is correct, her case is both uncompeling and harmful. But since Jane Doe vs. Harper Collins and Laura Kipnis is now public, some of Doe's specific complaints can now be discussed. (Many commenters have expressed frustration with people saying that the book is inaccurate without saying how. They may now be in a position to relieve some of their curiosity.)

The lawsuit puts in public, for the first time, Doe's version of the story. You can read it here. (It's a 23-page pdf.) This is of course her allegation; the evidence is something that will presumably be considered in court. A few highlights follow. Consider the usual content warnings to be in place.

According to the lawsuit, Ludlow targeted Doe immediately during a prospective visitors' weekend, offering to pay her way to stay at a house in Scotland with him, but asking her to keep the offer a secret. She felt it was inappropriate and declined, and told other professors about it at the time. (¶¶14–18)

When Doe arrived at Northwestern, she alleges that Ludlow sat in on a class she was taking—she later presumed this was a way to get close to her. (¶20) Despite her stated preference not to have a sexual relationship with him, he kissed her and exerted additional pressure over months. According to the complaint, "Plaintiff was increasingly unsure of how to handle this pressure. She wanted to stave off any romantic relationship while maintaining the academic and intellectual relationship with her mentor, who was teaching one of the classes she was attending, writing an academic paper with her, and would have a role in her career and evaluating her progress towards her PhD." (¶27)

The lawsuit also alleges that one night, Doe became intoxicated, and woke up to discover that she had apparently had sexual intercourse with Ludlow, although she had no memory of it. The complaint says: "Plaintiff was extremely upset. But as she was still a student in his department and they were working on a joint academic paper together, Plaintiff tried to maintain a sense of normalcy. She felt love for Ludlow as a mentor and had grown emotionally intimate with him, and his injection of physical intimacy was confusing and upsetting to Plaintiff. Increasingly uneasy about the relationship, Plaintiff departed campus as soon as possible for the holiday break. Once she was out of Evanston and away from Ludlow, it became clear to her how inappropriate the relationship was and that she had to end all personal contact with him. On or around January 6, 2012, Plaintiff returned after a month away, and Ludlow met her at the airport. While on the taxi ride home, Plaintiff told him that she felt he had taken advantage of her and had manipulated her and that she couldn’t have any sort of personal relationship with him. He became upset." (¶¶31–33)

According to the complaint, Doe declined to make any official complaint against Ludlow at first, because she had "fear and reluctance to do so given Ludlow’s position in the academic community and in the department where she was being evaluated for her PhD." (¶¶36–38) But two years later, when she learned of another similar case, she was eventually persuaded to come forward. The investigator hired by Northwestern found that Ludlow had sexually harassed Doe, but did not find evidence sufficient to determine whether he sexually assaulted her. (¶¶41–47)

This story is not consistent with the picture Kipnis gives in her book. As I mentioned last time, Kipnis is emphatic in asserting that Doe and Ludlow were in a consensual romantic relationship; the lawsuit denies this. Kipnis says that Doe make "a retrospective retraction of consent to a relationship ... two years later" (95), but the lawsuit alleges that she told Ludlow that he'd manipulated and taken advantage of her right away, years before making the complaint. It also explains why she came forward later. Kipnis says that this was a relationship in which "it wasn't Ludlow calling the shots. His role throughout had been the supplicant, not the seigneur." (119) Her evidence for this is some texts in which Ludlow seems sad after Doe cut off contact. The lawsuit alleges that Doe was awkwardly attempting to navigate intense inappropriate pressure from her mentor the entire time (and that she cut off contact after being raped).

The lawsuit also alleges some other complaints about false claims Kipnis makes about Doe—for example, concerning what Title IX complaints she filed and what they said.

The lawsuit certainly changes the conversation about this book. I was already planning to write at least one more post about Kipnis's book, continuing my strategy of bracketing out these specific factual worries. The allegations in this lawsuit seem very credible to me. (I should say that I am working on more than just the publicly available evidence here.) But I don't consider it my place to try to convince people of that—especially now that it seems it will literally be adjudicated in court. I do think I still have a couple of things to say that do not depend on these claims. So I'll likely write more about them soon.

Here, again, is a recap of what I've tried to argue so far:
(Edit to add: this thread is not the place to dispute these arguments. Follow the links and discuss them there if you want. I'm going to keep the comments to this post on the topic of the lawsuit.)

None of those posts, which are about general cultural matters, depend on the allegations made in this lawsuit, which concern a specific individual.


  1. It's worth reading Brian Leiter's reflections on the litigation. The competing accounts "can't [both] be true on many important points," he says. So it's definitely an interesting development. As in the John Searle case, I will let the courts arrive at a finding of fact before I make up my mind. (I don't always agree with the court, of course; but, as Leiter points out, the discovery process will no doubt give us much more to work with, as will any cross examination.)

    1. Actually, the Complaint alleges relatively few facts and those it does allege back-up Kipnis on the central point that Doe and Ludlow had for months a close emotional and physical relationship. What is at issue is Doe's assertion that relationship was non-consensual. This is a conclusion and not a fact. A fact is something like "Frankie shot Johnnie" or "I tried to leave but he stood in front of the door." There is little of that in Doe's complaint. Instead we have her repeated characterizations, such as "Ludlow inserted himself into Plaintiffs' life and came to dominate her time." Who could possibly know what this means. Also, although complaining that Kipnis quotes her texts "out of context," Doe never actually takes on any quotes and shows why they are out of context. Maybe Doe has evidence that she is choosing to withhold, a tactic that is not unheard of. But, on the face of the complaint, Doe is not persuasive.

    2. Anonymous: I disagree. I indicated in the post a number of pretty specific inconsistencies in the competing narratives.

      As for providing evidence for the claims in the lawsuit, IANAL but I was assuming it was normal for the lawsuit itself to just say what is being alleged, without trying to prove it—evidence will come in later, when these allegations are adjudicated. Someone who understands the legal matters better than I do should correct me if I'm wrong, but I've read a few complaints of this sort and they don't seem to typically provide the evidence within the complaint.

    3. That's not true at all, especially in a case like this, which is highly publicized. (Jane Doe's attorney immediately issued a press release, and bloggers like you leapt into action.) If Jane Doe *had* evidence to support her claims, she would have cited it.

      In fact, she *does* cite evidence -- specifically, her own testimony as to Ludlow's behavior in one-on-one situations. Unless she recorded these incidents, her testimony is the *only* evidence.

      But she also, significantly, ignores or misrepresents evidence that is in the record. She does not at any point in her pleading show how Kipnis has falsely cited her texts to Ludlow. She claims that the Title IX investigator found her account "very credible," but fails to mention that her most serious allegation -- rape -- was not sustained despite the low evidentiary standard.

      This case will be dismissed before it reaches a discovery phase. In fact, that is Jane Doe's best hope.

    4. I think that if you take another look at the complaint, you will see that little of it is devoted to the period of Doe and Ludlow's relationship. And, as your summary accurately reflects, that part of the complaint alleges Doe's feelings and not so much about concrete events. Nor does Doe deny the specific factual details described by Kipnis such as, to take one example, that it is Doe who often invites herself over to Ludlow's place late at night and then chooses to stay over in his bed. You are, of course, right in saying in your post that Doe portrays a very different relationship than does Kipnis but she does it through characterization and not through the allegation of facts. Try this: what important events concerning the Doe-Ludlow relationship did you learn about reading the complaint that you didn't already know from reading Kipnis' book.

      Btw, if this was not clear, I am not the same person as "Anonymous" below.

    5. She claims that the Title IX investigator found her account "very credible," but fails to mention that her most serious allegation -- rape -- was not sustained despite the low evidentiary standard.

      I don’t think you’ve read the complaint very carefully. Read ¶49 again.

    6. what important events concerning the Doe-Ludlow relationship did you learn about reading the complaint that you didn't already know from reading Kipnis' book.

      I was familiar with the case before reading either the book or the complaint, so that heuristic won’t work for me. That said, I think there are many important details in the complaint that aren't in the book. Here are a few examples.

      The complaint says (¶¶13–14) Ludlow fixated on Doe at a prospective visitors' event, inviting her to Scotland a mere hours after meeting her; the book says (p. 118) that she was receiving special favours on the basis of merit, and that her misgivings about impropriety were misplaced. The complaint also says (¶16) he proposed that she would stay in a house with him and that she should keep the arrangement a secret; the book does not include this important context.

      The complaint says (¶¶26, 29) that Doe resisted Ludlow’s romantic advances, and explains (¶27) the way in which the power differential made this difficult. The book certainly doesn’t include these details; on the contrary, as I said in the post, it characterizes Doe as the person in charge in the relationship. It also describes Ludlow as Doe’s “boyfriend” (p. 94).

      The book certainly doesn’t include the complaint’s (¶28) description of Ludlow’s angry, reckless, and aggressive behaviour towards Doe.

      A crucial detail in the complaint, which I mentioned in the post, is that (¶33) Doe told Ludlow in January of 2012—over two years before she would eventually file a complaint—that she felt that he’d taken advantage of her and manipulated her. This is not mentioned in the book; the book describes her as “flip-flopping on consent” “years after the fact”. (p. 91) She places important weight on this delay, emphasizing (p. 95) the degradation of memory over time.

    7. All of the items you cite have no supporting evidence. Nor could there be any unless Doe recorded events that only she and Ludlow were present for. I understand that you believe her, but that's entirely irrelevant.

    8. Professor, Thanks and I am fine with your recasting. I don’t think any of these are facts rebutting Kipnis’ assertion of a consensual relationship.

      Put aside ¶¶13,14 which relate to events before Doe decides to get involved with Ludlow.

      In terms of events, not characterizations and generalizations, you have a single unreciprocated kiss ¶26, and one yelling incident, ¶28. To be sure, Doe alleges in a general way that Ludlow pressured her for sex, that she made clear “she would not have sex with him,” but then she admits that they had “physical intimacy,” ¶29, which, as we will see, includes sex.

      Kipnis backed by the documentary evidence, which the complaint does not deny. says: Early on Doe invites Ludlow to lunch by Facebook post (94), when he later asks if lunch is on, she replies “if you wanted to do ‘lunch,’ right now, I’d say yes.” (104) Doe repeatedly chooses to go to Ludlow’s house and sleeps over with him in his bed. (103, 106) She texts him: “I love you,” “[s]o in love,” “we’re made for each other.” (107). She admits to the Title IX investigator that they had “what became a romantic relationship,” that they had consensual sex once, and that when she told Ludlow she loved him, she meant it then. (103).

      Doe can claim whatever she wants but on the facts, Kipnis has the better of it.

    9. My last comment in this thread was an answer to the question, what is there of relevance that the complaint says, that is not in the book. The answer is: a lot.

      As for what evidence Doe may or may not have in favour of her claims, this isn't the place to discuss it.

    10. You're right, my mistake. Paragraph 49 of the complaint acknowledges that the Title IX investigator did not find Doe's accusation of rape to be credible.

  2. Thanks for this useful summary. It's almost as if those who were claiming that there were serious factual disagreements with Kipnis but that it wasn't their place to adjudicate them... weren't joking!

  3. Finally, Ludlow's accuser will be compelled to produce evidence and to testify under oath. She decided to avoid that option in his dismissal proceedings. We will know the facts at last. No more opinions, no more witch hunts.

    1. Whether this is an improved feature of the situation or not depends, I think, on what story is actually true. If Doe really did unjustly accuse Ludlow, as Kipnis alleges, then he was treated unfairly, and she took undue advantage of a system intended to protect genuine victims. On the other hand, if the narrative in the complaint is the accurate one, her filing of the complaint was right and proper, and she has been unfairly maligned and dragged into public attention by Kipnis. You won't be surprised, I'm sure, to hear that my opinion is that this latter condition is the actual one. If this is what happened, then it is unfortunate that Doe needs to go through this process to correct the record.

      Likewise, whether anything that has happened is fairly describable as a "witch hunt" is also in dispute.

    2. Your opinion means nothing. That is what I was saying. Now a court of law will make the determination, not petty, self-interested bloggers like you.

      As American jurist John Wigmore once famously wrote, "Cross-examination is the greatest legal engine ever invented for the discovery of truth.” The accuser never submitted herself to this mechanism, and now she must (assuming her case survives a motion to dismiss, which is unlikely). She never quotes in her pleading, for example, from her texts to Ludlow, to show how Kipnis got them wrong or out of context. HarperCollins' and Kipnis's attorneys won't let her get away with this.

      And so on.

    3. Oh, I misunderstood—when I read your earlier post I thought we were engaging in a project of expressing our opinions about things. I guess that's not what you had in mind, but I confess I don't know why you're bothering to express your feelings about the matter then. Or are the opinions of spiteful, insulting anonymous commenters more meaningful than those of petty, self-interested bloggers?

      As for evidence, you're of course right that the list of factual allegations in the lawsuit doesn't include it. Instead, it is a list of factual allegations. As you say, the evidence comes later.

    4. No, there is evidence in the pleading, of a sort. The full testing of that evidence comes later.

  4. JI edit: As submitted, this comment incorrectly identified the pseudonym Kipnis used in the book. I have corrected it. I have left the rest of the comment unchanged.

    It may be helpful for readers to know that the plaintiff is Kipnis' "Nola Hartley" from the outset. It is said in two places in the 23 page PDF, on pages 14 and 19.

    It's interesting reading.

    It would seem that the plaintiff, as a current graduate student of NU, is likely to pursue Kipnis through Title IX under retaliation. In that, the plaintiff may have some foothold, but in the courts based upon the 23-page PDF, I am not convinced this is much more than publicizing her side of the story, and seeking a civil settlement with Harper Collins.

    Both Kipnis and Harper Collins may well benefit financially from the additional publicity the suit will bring to the book, and associated book sales.

    Should "Nola Hartley" benefit too?

    Harper Collins may offer her a settlement and a nondisclosure agreement. Or her own book deal.

  5. Only someone who has never written a book -- or someone with a very inflated ego -- thinks that a successful author writes a book to retaliate against somebody.

    1. I don't find this at all incredible. My own sense of the book is that it seems very retaliatory. Some of the details Kipnis includes about Doe are entirely gratuitious; I have difficulty imagining any nonretaliatory reason to include them. And when I heard Kipnis speak about the book in Vancouver a couple of weeks ago, I certainly got the impression that she felt deeply wronged by the students who filed a complaint against her (including Doe), and was revelling in the effect she expected the book was having on them.

      FWIW I I have indisputably written a couple of books, though opinions may vary on the degree to which my ego is inflated. But I'm not sure how the size of my ego bears on my assessment of whether Kipnis was retaliating against Doe.

    2. Of course Kipnis had (and would need) other incentives to write the book -- she surely knew that in addition to getting revenge on her accusers writing this book would likely make her a fair bit of money and bring her a lot of attention, for example, since people love scandal, gossip, and controversy. But that doesn't mean she wasn't retaliating. People can have more than one motive for something, anonymous@5/18/2017 09:19:00 PM.

    3. Of course, she was deeply wronged by the students. That's a fact. It's also highly unlikely that retaliation can ever be proven. Your testimony about what "impression" you got from Kipnis speaking is not evidence. Nor is your sense of what may be "gratuitous" details (which you never identify). The petitioner never identifies a single error Kipnis makes in citing her texts. The whole case itself is retaliatory. Kipnis can -- and should -- bring a Title IX charge against the student.

    4. On contrary, Anonymous, my opinion is entirely relevant to the claim to which it was offered as a reply, which concerned which possible people could have which possible opinions. I presented myself as a counterexample to a universal generalization.

      Your legal advice for Kipnis is interesting. I don't know if she reads my blog though—perhaps you should email it to her directly if you want to make sure she receives your input.

    5. If retaliation is on the table as a motive, does that only apply to Kipnis' writing of the book? Or could it be a reason for some accusations, too? How do we tell?

    6. You, and Nicole Wyatt, suggested that Kipnis' writing of the book was "retaliatory." That has a particular meaning in sexual harassment cases - that bringing a complaint, whatever the outcome, can't result in retaliation against the complainant. Doe is bringing a civil suit, and "A non Mouse" (great name) suggested that case wasn't likely to succeed, but that Doe might file a retaliation complaint against Kipnis at Northwestern. She hasn't done that - no one seems to have thought to do that. Whether it would have standing, I don't know. It's not fair to construe a self-defense as "retaliation."

      And I'm suggesting that apart from its meaning within a bureaucratic/institutional context, if we're willing to acknowledge retaliation as a human behavior and motive (which is what the bureaucratic term implicitly does), that opens up a can of worms, because we have to ask whether some investigations in this very broken and badly engineered Title IX system failed to identify cases where the accuser's motive was retaliatory. Someone posted a link to one, where a young woman said she wanted to ruin her ex-boyfriend's reputation.

  6. Please note that I will not be approving comments alleging details about Doe that have not previously been publicized.

    1. In other words, you are a hack. Got it. How about leaving out details about Ludlow that have not been previously publicized? Oh, right, you get to slime him to your heart's content.

      Enjoy your little moment. This lawsuit will go nowhere and only further embarrass the virtue warriors still trying, against all evidence, to assert the justice of their witch hunt. I'm sure you will continue to suppress details about Doe even when the answer is filed by Kipnis and her publisher. Good luck with your news quarantine!

      You really should go back to making stupid YouTube videos. This J'Accuse blog you've got going against Kipnis will be beaucoup embarrassing someday -- probably soon. You're no Emile Zola.

    2. How about leaving out details about Ludlow that have not been previously publicized?

      I don't think I've published any such details. Indeed, some commentators—including you, Anonymous—complained earlier about my reluctance to say anything specific about the Ludlow case until the lawsuit was made public; now that it is, I'm talking about the particular allegations made in it, but not about any other details. I'm trying to be pretty careful not to violate anyone's privacy here. But if I have inadvertently done so, please do let me know.

      As for the rest: I'm kinda flattered that you think my blog comment editorial policy amounts to a "news quarantine". If there's anybody out there whose sole source of information on this topic is the comments on my blog, I think they have bigger problems than my information suppression.

      Thanks also for the advice about the stupid YouTube videos. I actually do have some kinda fun ideas for some new ones; hopefully I'll find the time to make some soon.

    3. Your exploitation of this case for your own purposes is disgusting.

    4. OK, against what is probably my better judgment, I'll bite. I'm just too curious. What purposes of my own am I serving?

    5. Not same anonymous, and for record I don't see evidence you're doing that. But if you're curious what the really stock case would be, if you're one of those who stays in a partisan bubble and doesn't hear or weigh contrary perspectives:

      1. It'd be a classic case of virtue-signaling - because virtually no one, despite concept of "rape culture", is actually pro-rape, being anti-rape is a morally safe position, and being vehemently against rape, and offering strong denunciations of people who don't share your ideological claims about sex and gender, is actually morally profitable. A kind of front-running, that makes the people doing it look and feel like very good, noble, virtuous, pious people.

      2. Being vocally on the right and/or powerful side of this issue *could* be seen as a way to annex professional or cultural territory, or to get political/material resources in academia. What Kipnis calls a "witch hunt" has involved - you say through broken Title IX bureaucracy, not underlying beliefs - a lot of discrediting people, ending careers, sabotaging the reputations of young white men. Kipnis, who balked at proceedings that would have silenced her, at great risk, is now being, you know, sued.

      I'm not imputing any of that to you or activists - just unpacking what the case would be. Side effects, as it were.

  7. I don't know, I'm not sure this is the coup you think it is. Clearly Doe was hyper-conscious of power dynamics and anxious about the professional repercussions of a relationship with Ludlow, and a bit paralyzed by his attentions, and the power imbalance - at least as she recounts it in hindsight.

    It is fair to suggest Doe had some ambivalence, based on her behavior, that she had some interest in or attraction to Ludlow.

    The argument seems to be that Ludlow engaged in something like quid pro quo harassment implicitly, or that the structural conditions of their interaction were such that any romantic or sexual pursuit would be quid pro quo harassment, and that Doe had no capacity to resist, or signal her displeasure. Is that *true*, or a self-fulfilling prophecy?

    Maybe it is. We might reflect on whether faculty might be governed by a sort of explicit ethical code, the way lawyers and therapists are forbidden from sexual or romantic entanglements with their clients. That opens up a much larger set of issues about exactly how faculty-student relationships and roles ought to be defined.

    Beyond that, I do find it a little odd that critics of Kipnis focus entirely on the Ludlow case. She did make it the centerpiece of her book, to show how there might be more ambiguity or ambivalence or moral confusion than a reductive moralistic/ideological explanation would allow. But she has other chapters describing other cases, there are tons of other cases that have received media coverage, and she makes a larger diagnosis of paranoia and moral panic. Her critics have nothing to say about those claims, even as they admit the Title IX process is very flawed (paranoid? morally panicked?), so you're hanging your case entirely on the idea she got some facts wrong.

    I suspect Harper Collins has good lawyers who reviewed the book in advance, but we'll see.

    I also find it significant that Doe, and her defenders, don't seem to care much about any trauma inflicted on her by Ludlow, and are focused primarily on defending her *professional* reputation and "honor", even as his are in the toilet. Is it possible that's part of what this is all really about? Professional anxiety about what impact sex or love might have on reputation or prospects?

    1. Hi Anonymous, I'm a bit puzzled by your comment.

      For one thing, I am not sure where you got the idea that I (or someone else?) am arguing that Ludlow engaged in quid pro quo harassment.

      For another, I am not sure which critics of Kipnis you're talking about when you say that "that critics of Kipnis focus entirely on the Ludlow case" or that "[h]er critics have nothing to say about those claims [about other cases and general cultural matters]". It sounds like you may be referencing me—you write that "you're hanging your case entirely on the idea she got some facts [about the Ludlow case] wrong." If you meant these characterizations to include me, I don't understand why you'd say that.

      Have you read the five other recent posts on this blog that criticize Kipnis's book without focusing on the Ludlow case, or relying on the claims in this lawsuit?

  8. I said it was something like *implicit* quid pro quo harassment, that the power imbalance between Ludlow and Doe was so pronounced, and his potential control over her professional future so significant, that in Doe's mind, Ludlow had so much leverage that she couldn't say no, that the implied or projected professional risk of doing so was too high. That's my reading of Doe's case. That in her mind, she thought his conduct was inappropriate but was too intimidated by his power to say so. That it was, effectively, co-created as a kind of quid pro quo harassment, or imagined to be that - that if she said no, it would end badly for her. As is sometimes the case. But there was no explicit "quid pro quo" harassment. Does that... make sense?

    Will say more about the rest when I have a spare minute later, I don't mean to misconstrue what you're arguing.

  9. Also, the idea that her account isn't "consistent" with the one in Kipnis' book - you know, of course. Her account involves "characterizations", as other Anonymous said on 5/19 at 7:33:00 PM, a term you're parroting in your response to me.

    Kipnis' account did some of that - as, I assume, Ludlow's did - but that's exactly why the legal process tries to look at facts, and competing or overlapping testimony. Because our feelings, characterizations, and degrees of self-awareness and other-awareness are all imperfect. You can't just create a system or a framework where the feelings/characterizations of a victim/accuser escape scrutiny. That's grossly unfair.

    Like, "he said, she said" is a cliche for a reason. And even if it is felt to, or does, give cover to predators who use it as an alibi, that's a problem that may require a different solution. Because it's also a fact of relational life. You've never known two people to exit a relationship with different accounts of culpability, different narratives, or the same events portrayed much differently?