A Columbia University graduate who denied raping three fellow students settled his Title IX lawsuit against the school. A lawyer for Paul Nungesser said, “Together with Paul and his parents, we have fought for three long years. It gives Paul a chance to go on with his life and recover from the false accusation against him. We hope that the resolution of the case also ensures that no student will ever have to endure what Paul went through after he was exonerated.”
Nungesser, who graduated in 2015, accused Columbia of “anti-male” harassment and defamation for allowing one of his accusers, Emma Sulkowicz, to carry a dorm-issued mattress around campus until the school expelled him. The acting of carrying the mattress was Sulkowicz’s senior thesis called “Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight),” and she explained in 2014, “We keep [mattresses] in our bedroom, which is our intimate space, our private space, where we can retreat if we don’t want to deal with anyone at that moment. But I think the past year or so of my life has been really marked by telling people what happened in that most intimate, private space and bringing it out into the light.”
“Carry That Weight” was developed after Sulkowicz became frustrated with both Columbia (she had reported the incident to the school, but it was dismissed by a university panel) and the NYPD, who, she said, treated her badly when she reported the incident.
In 2014, the NY Times reported, “Ms. Sulkowicz says that in August 2012, during an otherwise consensual encounter, Mr. Nungesser hit her, pinned her down and, despite her protests, raped her. Another woman accused him of following her up the stairs at a party for the literary society they both belonged to and groping her until she pushed him off. A third woman accused him of multiple episodes of ‘intimate partner violence’ — emotional abuse and nonconsensual sex during a monthslong relationship.”
Nungesser said that his encounter with Sulkowicz was consensual and was “not a misunderstanding… What was alleged was the most violent rape, and that did not happen.” He also denied the other accusations, saying of the third woman’s claims, “Outside of a forced marriage or kidnapping, it just seems very hard to believe that a person would over and over again put themselves in a situation where they could expect this kind of behavior to occur.”
Nungesser then sued the university for discrimination, claiming it essentially sponsored Sulkowicz’s project, especially as she brought the mattress with her to collect her diploma at graduation, but the lawsuit was dismissed twice by a federal judge. On Thursday, his lawyer Andrew Miltenberg “said that after the setbacks, Nungesser had prepared an appeal before coming to a settlement agreement with Columbia. The terms of the settlement were confidential, Miltenberg said.”
The university issued a statement, “Columbia recognizes that after the conclusion of the investigation, Paul’s remaining time at Columbia became very difficult for him and not what Columbia would want any of its students to experience. Columbia will continue to review and update its policies toward ensuring that every student — accuser and accused, including those like Paul who are found not responsible — is treated respectfully and as a full member of the Columbia community.”
Dana Bolger, a founder of the organization Know Your IX, told the NY Times, “I hope that schools don’t interpret [the settlement] as a sign that they should be cracking down on student activism… Especially now as we see some retrenchment from the current administration, it’s more important than ever that student speech is allowed to thrive on campuses.”