Renowned Yale Philosophy Professor Thomas Pogge has consistently used his “fame and influence” to sexually harass younger women in his field over the past several decades, according to allegations published Friday by Buzzfeed News.
The Buzzfeed story focuses on the experience of Fernanda Lopez Aguilar ’10, a former student of Pogge’s who accused him of sexual harassment and assault in 2010 and formally filed a complaint with Yale in 2011.
In October 2015, Lopez Aguilar also filed a complaint with the federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, alleging that Yale violated Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination, by not properly handling or investigating her allegations. Her complaint also accuses Yale of violating Title VI, which prohibits race discrimination, as it alleges that Pogge targeted foreign women of color unfamiliar with the United States.
In a Friday email to the News, Lopez Aguilar reaffirmed her allegations and added that she has had to take on a “mother’s role” in protecting women who attend Yale in light of her own experience.
The News has obtained dozens of documents and hundreds of pages of legal affidavits, emails and official filings — almost exclusively provided by Lopez Aguilar — related to these allegations. Those documents shed light on the University’s response to her claims, as well as onto the interactions between Pogge and Lopez Aguilar.
Pogge has vigorously denied any wrongdoing over the five-year process. He did not respond to an email from the News sent Friday night.
According to the documents, Lopez Aguilar claimed that when Pogge was her senior thesis adviser, and during the summer after her graduation, Pogge conducted himself in ways that created “a sexually charged environment.” He then refused to honor an alleged agreement to have her work in a paid capacity at his Global Justice program, a Yale initiative founded and directed by Pogge that works on the relationship between public health and poverty. According to Lopez Aguilar, Pogge’s refusal was an act of professional retaliation after she rebuffed his advances.
At the time, Yale found “substantial evidence” that Pogge engaged in “unprofessional conduct.”
“Pogge created an intimate and unprofessional atmosphere [with Lopez Aguilar],” the University’s adjudicative panel wrote in 2011. “We understand why some of this behavior may have made [Lopez Aguilar] confused, anxious or uncomfortable, and given the unequal power of the professor and his student, trainee or prospective employee, we understand why [Lopez Aguilar] may have had difficulty expressing any discomfort. In sum, we question [Pogge’s] judgment, and we note his failure to exercise his professional authority responsibly.”
However, the panel did not find Pogge guilty of sexual harassment, nor did it find that professional retaliation had occurred. The only infraction the panel found was that Pogge had misused Yale stationary by drafting a letter to help Lopez Aguilar secure housing at the Taft Apartments. The panel recommended that then-Provost Peter Salovey write a letter of reprimand for this infraction that would remain in Pogge’s employment file. Salovey approved these recommendations on November 19, 2011.
But three years later, and still unsatisfied with Yale’s response, Lopez Aguilar partnered with the prestigious British law firm, McAllister Olivarius, which specializes in cases of sexual misconduct. The firm was founded by Ann Olivarius ’77 LAW ’86 SOM ’86, one of the plaintiffs in a landmark 1980 lawsuit against Yale that was the first to establish sexual harassment as a form of gender discrimination. McAllister Olivarius filed a pre-action letter against Yale University in July 2014.
“Ms. Lopez was harassed, assaulted and retaliated against by her senior thesis advisor and employer, Dr. Thomas Pogge,” the letter read. “After being initially told by Yale that her abuse was not their concern, she was then permitted a hearing, the outcome of which was that Prof. Pogge’s only actionable misbehavior was improper use of Yale stationary.”
The pre-action letter was presented to Yale’s then-senior associate general counsel Harold Rose in September 2014. Rose, who is now senior associate general counsel, responded that the University felt the pre-action letter to be without merit.
However, the brief did contain legal affidavits from professors at other U.S. institutions that describe a previous history of sexual misconduct by Pogge.
The affidavits, which were disclosed to the News against the authors’ wishes, reveal that Pogge was accused of sexual harassment in the mid-1990s while he was a faculty member at Columbia. As a result of the accusations, Pogge was barred from entering the philosophy building whenever his alleged victim had classes there. According to one philosophy professor cited in the affidavits, Yale was aware of these events when it hired Pogge in 2008.
Buzzfeed also wrote that a Ph.D. student at a European university accused Pogge of using career opportunities to begin a sexual relationship in 2014.
Despite the accusations, Pogge has remained at Yale, teaching Introduction to Political Philosophy in fall 2015 and two seminars this past spring.
Correction: This article previously stated that Pogge did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday night. In fact, he did not respond to a request on Friday night.