Times caption: Theodore Piepenbrock and his wife, Sophie Marnette. He sued the LSE over its handling of a colleague’s sex harassment claim
A piece in today’s Times about a case of false allegations. The remarks by Mrs Justice Nicola Davies are simply scandalous. Emphases ours:
An academic who lost a £4 million compensation claim for errors in the handling of a complaint against him by a young female colleague has called for protection for those accused of sexual impropriety.
Theodore Piepenbrock, 52, was a senior teaching fellow at the London School of Economics when a graduate teaching assistant repeatedly tried to seduce him, the High Court was told.
When the internationally renowned economist complained about her behaviour, she threatened to “ruin his life” and made a series of malicious allegations, it was alleged.
Dr Piepenbrock was cleared of wrongdoing and yesterday he called for “balance” in the handling of the growing number of complaints triggered by the #MeToo movement of women alleging that they have suffered sexual harassment.
The academic became concerned when the teaching assistant, who can be identified only as Miss D, started flirting with him, he told the court in a compensation claim against the LSE.
The assistant, aged in her 20s, wore mini-skirts that “sometimes revealed her undergarments when she crossed her legs or when she insisted on crawling on her hands and knees to plug in her laptop power cord”, the court was told.
Dr Piepenbrock, who is known as Ted, discussed his colleague’s behaviour with his wife, Sophie Marnette, 49, a professor of medieval French studies at Oxford and a fellow of Balliol College. They decided to invite the woman to their home to demonstrate that they were happily married.
The economist, who was a deputy academic dean for the LSE’s prestigious masters course in global management, hoped that the matter had been resolved and so agreed that the assistant could accompany him on a lecture tour in the United States.
During the trip she opened her hotel door to him “wearing a sweater top which did not cover what he described as ‘her private parts’ [and he could see] either her underwear or pubic hair”.
The academic said that when he later confronted the woman about her behaviour, she shouted at him: “I will make you regret this decision for the rest of your life. I will ruin your life and your career.” The woman’s mother originally complained to the LSE before Miss D made a series of “malicious and untruthful complaints” about his alleged “sexual impropriety”, the court was told. Miss D was said to have then circulated the complaints within the LSE, to Dr Piepenbrock’s former students at Duke University in North Carolina and The Economist magazine.
Dr Piepenbrock said that as a result his colleagues would not say “hi” to him in the morning and would leave the lift when he entered.
An internal investigation was said to have concluded that the case against Dr Piepenbrock was “not proven” and Craig Calhoun, who was then the LSE’s director, wrote to him apologising for “failings” in the way that the woman’s complaint was handled and “deficiencies” in the investigation.
Dr Piepenbrock sued the LSE, claiming that it was liable for Miss D’s harassment of him and was in breach of its duty of care to him in the way it handled her complaint, which left him suffering an “acute stress reaction”.
Mrs Justice Nicola Davies ruled that Miss D had not harassed Dr Piepenbrock as she had not acted in a “malicious, oppressive or unacceptable” manner and made her complaint as she was “concerned that other young women could be subject to the same treatment”.
The judge said that there was a “series of failures” by the LSE to manage Miss D’s complaint, that the process was “unnecessarily protracted” and it should have taken steps to stop the teaching assistant from spreading her allegations. She said that the LSE could not have foreseen that its handling of the woman’s allegations would have led to the academic’s severe depression.
Dr Piepenbrock, who is preparing to appeal against the judgment and has begun an employment tribunal claim, said after the ruling: “In the #MeToo era, when sexual harassment/abuse against women is finally beginning to be rightfully addressed, how do we balance the needs to protect both women and men? I hope my story . . . helps in some small way to contribute to a sensible debate, where well-intentioned people work together to solve a very important issue of our time.”
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