Lawsuit accuses Purdue University of mishandling sexual assault case

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) – A federal lawsuit has been filed against Purdue accusing the university of not properly responding to an extensive sexual assault case between a former English professor and one of his female students.

Lance Duerfahrd was an English professor who became the director of Film and Video Studies program.

He received tenure in 2012, the same year the lawsuit claims the university first discovered he was sexually assaulting students. The lawsuit also claims he had other inappropriate relationships with subordinates in the English Department and the College of Liberal Arts.

The actions described in the suit would have been in direct violation of Purdue’s policy on amorous relationships.

The lawsuit claims a student brought her experience to her academic advisor during the spring semester of 2012. The advisor then brought the information to the English Department head at the time. Duerfahrd received tenure that fall semester.

The lawsuit describes an earlier incident in October 2011 when Duerfahrd took a group of students out to a bar for drinks. It claims he pushed a female graduate student up against a wall and sexually assaulted her.

“It’s kind of scary,” said Kat Kirby, a junior at Purdue. “I honestly never would have thought that it would happen here. I’ve heard it happen everywhere else, but I can’t fathom that.”

The plaintiff in the suit describes her personal encounters with Duerfahrd as starting in the fall semester of 2016, when she enrolled in one of his film classes.

The suit says the issues started with demanding she attend office hours, where reports say he talked little of academics and much of personal matters.

The lawsuit claims he began to question her commitment to her classes as he began to pressure her to meet outside of the classroom.

The plaintiff said Duerfahrd began picking her up from her personal residence to take her to isolated places. She said she was worried that her failure to submit to her professor’s demands would cause her grades to suffer.

Students said that was a clear abuse of power.

“They had a man in authority over them trying to take advantage of them because he had power over them, which is really disconcerting,” said Purdue junior Neely Plaspohl.

The lawsuit said their interactions came to an end after he convinced her to come to his house where he sexually assaulted her multiple times.

The report said the plaintiff entered the fall semester of 2016 with a 3.78 GPA, which lowered during that semester, and that the plaintiff’s mental and physical health deteriorated.

“I would have been so scared; I would have been terrified,” said Kirby. “I would have not known what to do and I would have been so scared to tell anybody.”

The school said it had no knowledge of the claim until 2017.

Tim Doty, director of Public Information and Issues Management for Purdue, sent the following statement:

Upon receiving notice of the allegations, the university acted swiftly and decisively. In fact, it would be difficult to find a more clear example of Purdue’s intolerance of this type of misconduct.

Immediately upon learning of the complaint against Mr. Duerfahrd, Purdue placed him on leave, ordered him to have no contact with students, and launched an investigation. Upon conclusion of the investigation, which substantiated the claim, Mr. Duerfahrd resigned under threat of termination. The entire matter was resolved in a matter of months.

Purdue takes very seriously its responsibility to provide a safe education environment for it students. The university does not and will not tolerate such misconduct by any member of its community, including faculty, regardless of their rank or tenure. This case proves it.

Doty confirmed that Duerfahrd resigned in August of 2017.

Students think something should have been done sooner.

“I know things like that take a long time to process but it doesn’t change the fact that it should have been acted upon earlier,” said Plaspohl.

The lawsuit accuses the university of violation of Title IX and negligent retention and supervision and accuses Duerfahrd of sexual assault, sexual battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Students want to know that they are protected by their institution.

“We’re here to learn,” said Plasphol. “We’re not here to date our professors, we’re not here to be sexually harassed by our professors.”

The lawsuit said the plaintiff transferred from Purdue during the summer of 2017 and is still trying to complete her undergraduate degree.