University calls for dismissal of chemistry professor’s lawsuit

The University is asking the court to dismiss a chemistry professor’s lawsuit against GW, charging that officials had strong evidence that the professor had engaged in inappropriate behavior with a student.

On Dec. 22, the University’s lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the case, claiming that Catherine Woytowicz, a part-time professor of chemistry and international affairs, did not have sufficient legal standing for much of her claims and that officials had acted properly to address the allegations against her.

In March 2016, a 19-year-old male undergraduate student, who is not identified in court documents, filed a Title IX complaint against Woytowicz, his chemistry professor, charging that Woytowicz “overtly pursued a sexual relationship with him and threatened academic and
professional consequences if he did not comply,” according to the motion.

In a complaint filed earlier this month in D.C. Superior Court, Woytowicz claimed that she was not given enough information to defend herself and that she was treated more harshly over the course of the investigation because of her sex. She claimed that after the sexual harassment accusations were found to be unfounded, officials wrongly expanded the scope of Title IX policies in accusing her of an inappropriate relationship with the student, and then wrongly barred her from teaching courses at the University.

The University acknowledges that there was insufficient evidence to support claims of sexual harassment, but charges that Woytowicz and the student exchanged hundreds of texts messages between February and December 2015, many of which were sexually suggestive and included double entendres, according to the motion.

“Woytowicz seemed to delight in writing double entendres to her student about the size and shape of the male organ and about oral and anal sex, among other things,” court documents state.

Woytowicz also allegedly invited the student to her apartment late in the evening and provided him with alcohol despite knowing he was underage. She also engaged in a sexual encounter with one the student’s friends at the student’s apartment, according to the documents.

Woytowicz denied in her previous complaint violating Title IX policies or inviting students to her apartment. She also claimed that officials took many of the text messages out of context and wrongly framed them as sexually suggestive.

Despite meetings with Eric Arnesen, the vice dean for faculty and administration in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, and chemistry department chair Michael King, to discuss her conduct, Woyotowicz allegedly did not provide an explanation for her actions and refused to acknowledge that she acted inappropriately and unprofessionally.

“Apparently Woytowicz thinks the University should not be concerned about a faculty member engaging in sexual banter, touching and drinking after hours at her apartment with an undergraduate student who was enrolled in her course,” the motion states. “Nor does she believe that defendants have a right to question her about her conduct with a George Washington University student and to ask that she not repeat it in the future.”

In September 2016, Title IX coordinator Rory Muhammad emailed Woytowicz that the University completed its review of the student’s complaint and that officials wanted to reach an “informal” resolution to the case, according to the documents.

Muhammad told Woytowicz at the meeting that there was not sufficient evidence to conclude she engaged in sexual harassment as defined by the Title IX policy, but that he believed Woytowicz engaged in behavior that violated rules prohibiting consensual sexual relationships between faculty and their students, according to the motion.

Woytowicz refused to accept the resolution, denying any wrongdoing.

Earlier this year, both the chemistry department and the Elliott School told Woytowicz that she would not be reappointed to her teaching positions until she acknowledged her misconduct, according to court documents. Woytowicz alleges that this was a violation of her union contract as a faculty member.

The University argues that Woytowicz’s claims that the University violated her constitutional rights are irrelevant because those rights don’t apply to policies enacted by a private institution like GW.

The motion also claims that Woytowicz does not have sufficient evidence that she was treated differently in the case process because of her sex.

The University argues that she did not face a hostile work environment since she met with the defendants only a handful of times during the investigation and most of those meetings occurred with her attorney present. The motion claims that her complaints don’t meet the legal standards of retaliation or emotional distress.

The motion also claims that Woytowicz cannot sue for breach of contract because she did not participate in the union’s internal grievance procedure to address her complaints before filing the suit.

University officials are demanding that “the claims against the individual defendants should be dismissed no matter what else the Court decides,” according to the motion.

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