Last year, law professor Kyndra Rotunda filed a federal lawsuit against her former employer, George Mason University School of Law; a GMU law professor, Joseph Zengerle; and the law school’s dean, Daniel Polsby. Rotunda raised claims of sexual harassment, retaliation, pay discrimination, and constructive discharge, alleging that she was sexually harassed by Zengerle when they worked together at a legal assistance clinic for military service members.
Rotunda claimed that the law school “knowingly” tolerated Zengerle’s behavior and that the administration did not respond properly when she raised complaints about Zengerle. Before filing her suit, Rotunda declared: “I was sexually harassed at one of America’s upper-tier law schools, and they shouldn’t be able to get away with it.”
Last week, a judge dismissed much of Rotunda’s lawsuit. From Tony Mauro of the BLT:
A federal judge on Friday dismissed most of law professor Kyndra Rotunda’s sexual harassment lawsuit against George Mason University School of Law professor Joseph Zengerle, the school’s dean and the school itself. Judge Leonie Brinkema of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled from the bench after a hearing on motions to dismiss the case.
“It was a very good day,” said law school dean Daniel Polsby, who described the lawsuit as a “very serious abuse of the system.” He added, “The civil rights laws are very important. When they are abused, they are attacked.”
So what’s left in the lawsuit after the dismissal?
Not much. The one remaining count is one of state law — ick — for the common law tort of assault and battery. It’s not very sexy — or sexual, according to Zengerle’s attorney, Michael Lorenger. “[Kyndra] Rotunda alleges that Professor Zengerle bumped into her when he left his office one day, and that’s it,” Lorenger told the ABA Journal.
GMU and Dean Polsby are surely relieved to have this lawsuit behind them, since it made for a great deal of awkwardness. It’s not fun when one faculty member sues another faculty members for sexual harassment. It’s even less fun when the plaintiff faculty member, Kyndra Rotunda, happens to be married to one of your most distinguished faculty members — Ronald Rotunda, the prominent constitutional law scholar.
But much of the awkwardness dissipated in 2008, when the Rotundas left George Mason in a huff, citing the Zengerle situation and what they viewed as the administration’s inadequate response. The Rotundas are now at Chapman University School of Law in California, where Kyndra Rotunda has founded a legal clinic comparable to the one she worked in at George Mason.
Still, even with the Rotundas on the opposite coast, it seems that the litigation itself wasn’t a ton of fun for the law school. Dean Polsby told the ABA Journal that discovery in case involved some 100,000 pages of discovery and 100 hours of depositions. “I personally was deposed for 12 hours,” said Polsby.
CORRECTION: Dean Polsby was represented by Mark Dare and Mark Papadopoulos of Isler Dare Ray Radcliffe & Connolly.
The law school
and Dean Polsby were was represented by Covington & Burling, which described the victory in a press release:
After extensive discovery and just two weeks before the scheduled trial, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema ruled from the bench that Ms. Rotunda had not presented sufficient evidence to get to a jury on any of the claims against the University. Covington partner Jeffrey Huvelle, the lead lawyer for the University, said the decision reflected a careful review of the record, which showed that “plaintiff’s most provocative allegations were contradicted by her own writings.”
The district court judge found that the University had investigated Ms. Rotunda’s internal complaint of discrimination and issued a “dispassionate” and “thorough” report that “hit it right on the head” in concluding that there was not sex discrimination.
In addition to Mr. Huvelle, Covington associates Phyllis Jones and Lindsay Burke represented the University. All are based in the firm’s Washington office.
George Mason, Law Dean Win Bench Dismissal of Rotunda Sex-Harass Suit [ABA Journal]
Judge Dismisses Most of Sex Harassment Case Against George Mason Law [The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times]
Ex-Professor Sues George Mason Law School for Harassment [National Law Journal]