On April 13, 2023, Rutgers University quietly paid $375,000 to settle a 2018 lawsuit filed by a graduate student who claimed that a University professor “abused his position of authority to sexually assault and harass [her] ultimately coercing her into a seemingly ‘consensual’ relationship,” an allegation that the professor vehemently denies. (See update below, showing that the professor also settled with Rutgers for $250,000.)
The lawsuit was filed by a then 29-year year old female student referred to as “Jane Doe” in court documents. According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff entered the Ph.D. program at Rutgers Business School in the summer of 2015 and wished to collaborate with then seventy-five-year-old Dr. Nabil Adam, a respected and long-serving professor. Dr. Adam appointed her as his research assistant and agreed to serve as her initial advisor for her dissertation.
Dr. Adam, who the lawsuit describes as being a “demanding advisor,” allegedly began making unwelcome remarks about the plaintiff’s appearance, which persisted despite her noncommittal responses. On January 14, 2016, he allegedly sexually assaulted her in his campus office. This was followed by subsequent instances of sexual assault, coercion, and emotional distress, according to court filings. The plaintiff said that she felt worn down by Dr. Adam’s relentless demands and fearing repercussions, ultimately acquiesced to his advances, entering into a coerced, ostensibly ‘consensual’ relationship.
The plaintiff said she made multiple attempts at self-harm. Dr. Adam was allegedly aware of her intentions to harm herself but failed to report them to University officials. The plaintiff also claimed that she sent Dr. Adam three emails in June 2017 in which she accused him of being a “shameless, guiltless rapist.” Despite the alarming nature of her accusations, Dr. Adam allegedly did not report the emails to University officials which the plaintiff claims is required by Rutgers’ Sexual Misconduct Policy.
The plaintiff claimed to have later confided in Dr. Adam’s wife and son, as well as another professor, who subsequently reported the sexual misconduct allegations to Rutgers’ Office of Employment Equity (OEE), leading to an independent investigation. The plaintiff, however, chose not to file an official complaint with the OEE at that time due to concerns about potential damage to her academic career and fear of disparagement, according to the lawsuit.
Throughout the OEE’s independent inquiry, Dr. Adam allegedly continued to harass and contact the plaintiff, even though the University advised him to have no contact with her. On September 15, 2017, the OEE concluded that it could not definitively ascertain whether the Sexual Misconduct Policy had been violated, as both the plaintiff and Dr. Adam denied the existence of a sexual relationship. Instead, the OEE determined that the plaintiff had made false allegations against Dr. Adam. These findings were reportedly disseminated widely by several deans, allegedly resulting in significant harm to the plaintiff’s reputation.
A few weeks after the OEE’s decision, the plaintiff claimed that Dr. Adam once again sexually assaulted her. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff said that she opted to lodge a formal complaint against Dr. Adam and requested the reopening of the OEE investigation. She provided the Rutgers Police Department with some of her clothing, which bore evidence of what she claimed was Dr. Adam’s DNA. Despite a lab report confirming the presence of human semen, Dr. Adam, citing privacy concerns, refused to provide a cheek swab for a DNA comparison test, according to the lawsuit.
According to an April 23, 2018 NJ Advance Media article “Rutgers prof cleared of harassment, but mystery of stain on pants remains,” by Susan K. Livio, the report “harshly criticized [Adam’s] ‘extremely troubling’ behavior, noted the professor did not fully cooperate with investigation and blasted his decision to not take a DNA test.” The report concluded, according to the article, with “I am not able to find that Dr. Adam sexually assaulted (the student) and/or that there was a sexual relationship of any kind between the Parties.” Ultimately, the OEE found only that Dr. Adam had breached reporting obligations. “It is astounding that he would not report her behavior to university administration,” the report said, according to the NJ Advance Media article.
The article also noted that Dr. Adam “vehemently denied every allegation and called himself the victim of [the plaintiff’s] relentless stalking.” Indeed, in 2020, Adam filed his own lawsuit against Rutgers in which he said that Jane Doe engaged in “bizarre stalkerish and sexually harassing behavior” that resulted in him suffering a hostile work environment. It is unclear whether Adam’s lawsuit, which was consolidated with the plaintiff’s, was also resolved by the settlement agreement. An Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request has been made to Rutgers for any separate settlement agreement between Rutgers and Adam and the results will be published here when they are received.
Update: On November 9, 2023, Rutgers provided me with a copy of its April 21, 2023 confidential settlement agreement with Dr. Adam. According to the agreement, Rutgers agreed to pay Adam $250,000, comprised of $50,593 for economic damages, $75,889 for emotional distress and other non-economic claims and $123,518 for his attorney fees. Rutgers also agreed to discontinue its dismissal proceedings against Adam and allow him to retain his title of Professor Emeritus. In exchange, Adam agreed to “not hold himself out publicly as being currently employed by Rutgers, including on social media” and to dismiss his lawsuit. He must keep the details of this settlement secret or risk losing $125,000 of the settlement money. Dr. Adam has promised not to apply for work at Rutgers again, while the university has agreed to provide neutral information about him to any future employers that may ask.
Following the media’s first publication of the assault allegations, Dr. Adam, with the assistance of another professor, began spreading defamatory information about the plaintiff within Rutgers Business School, according to the lawsuit.
The plaintiff contested the OEE’s decision, but her appeal was rejected.
The plaintiff alleged that following the issuance of the OEE’s final report, she experienced a severe panic attack that necessitated a nine-day hospitalization. Upon her return, she discovered that university professors had taken a data storage device containing vital information and that the device’s removal hampered her Ph.D. research. She believes this was done in retaliation against her.
Of the $375,000, $215,902.40 went to the plaintiff with the remaining $159,097.60 being paid to the plaintiff’s lawyer.
The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, under which the plaintiff agreed that the settlement and its terms and amounts be kept confidential. The confidentiality clause includes a provision requiring the plaintiff to pay Rutgers $187,500 for each proven instance of her breaching confidentiality or making disparaging remarks about Rutgers or its officers or employees. Fortunately, however, confidentiality clauses do not trump the public’s right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.
The case is captioned Jane Doe v. Rutgers, et al, Federal Case No. 2:18-cv-12952 and the plaintiff’s attorney was Frank R. Schirripa of New York. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are contained in a single file which is on-line here.
It’s important to note that none of the allegations in the lawsuit have been proven or disproven in court, and the settlement does not constitute an admission of liability by any party involved. All that is known for sure is that Rutgers or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay out $375,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps their decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial–it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.