A student at the School of General Studies has filed a lawsuit claiming that GS Dean of Students Tom Harford subjected her to abusive and inappropriate sexual activity, using scholarship money as “bait,” according to the plaintiff’s complaint released earlier this morning.
The suit follows the announcement of Harford’s removal from his position last week for what administrators have deemed “unacceptable” conduct. The unnamed GS student is filing a $50 million lawsuit against both Harford and the University, who allegedly failed to respond to the situation despite knowledge of inappropriate text messages, constant contact, and harassment.
In a statement Tuesday, a University spokesperson declined to comment on the specifics of the litigation, but said that Columbia acted promptly to remove Harford once it learned of his “unacceptable” behavior and that the University aims to prioritize students’ safety.
In her complaint, the plaintiff—filing the suit as “Jane Doe”—alleges that she sought help from Harford this May because she was temporarily homeless.
After Harford allegedly connected her with resources and paying her $500 of his own money, the student claims that she and Harford engaged in a relationship and that the dean continued to take advantage of her vulnerability and escalated his inappropriate behavior, engaging in sexual acts, offering to buy her a dress, and asking for her address.
The student claims that because she was homeless at the time, Harford’s control over her access housing, psychological services, and Columbia resources, meant that she had to maintain their relationship. The lawsuit alleges that Harford and the student regularly engaged in sexual acts directly before or after meetings to arrange the students scholarship payments.
On some occasions, the plaintiff alleges, Harford would lock the door to his office and the two would engage in sexual acts, which she believes neighboring administrators were aware of.
The complaint also details how GS Vice Dean Curtis Rodgers was allegedly aware that Harford provided the student with cash after SVR employees raised the issue with administrators, and saw her text messages with Harford. In addition, she alleges that her advisor questioned her constant contact with Harford, but Columbia ultimately failed to take any steps to investigate or protect her from harassment.
David Sanford, a lawyer representing the student, said that he was not aware of any investigation by the Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office, and filed the complaint after Harford’s removal.
The lawsuit against Harford and Columbia is the third Title IX suit against the University since 2017. Sanford Heisler Sharp, the law firm representing the student in her case against Harford, was also involved in litigation against history professor William Harris, who retired in 2017 as part of a settlement for a sexual harassment lawsuit.
This past July, Sanford also represented former Business School faculty member Enrichetta Ravina against her mentor Geert Bekaert and Columbia, who were both found liable for retaliation, winning the plaintiff $1.25 million in damages and setting a precedent for seeking monetary compensation from the University.