Transgender Applicant Sues HBS In Assault, Discrimination Case


A transgender woman has filed a lawsuit accusing Harvard University and Brigid Harrington, the university’s Title IX officer, of discriminating and retaliating against her after she filed a sexual assault complaint against a male Harvard Business School admissions officer. The woman, a resident of California who identifies as a transgender, Muslim, Hispanic woman, filed the 15-page complaint against the university on January 22 in United States District Court for Massachusetts, accusing the school of violating Title IX and Massachusetts laws.

The woman, who filed the report under the alias of Jane Doe, attended a Midwestern university for her bachelor’s degree before applying to HBS and the Graduate School of Education in 2017. She attended “several” Harvard admissions events in Cambridge between August and October 2017; she states in the court filing that she was sexually assaulted by a male HBS admissions officer at a LGBT Open House at the school on October 16, 2017, when the admissions officer “forcibly kissed” her.

“Plaintiff was shocked, confused, scared, and overwhelmed by the advance,” the court document reads. “She felt vulnerable as an applicant to the university having been so brazenly assaulted by an admission officer at a sanctioned admissions event.”


Doe reported the account to Harvard, but according to the court filing, the school denied the allegation and refused to investigate. The document further states that a LGBT admissions officer told Doe that “Harvard University had not admitted any transgender students in the last three admissions cycles.”

Within days of filing her complaint about the alleged October 2017 assault, the woman was denied admission to HBS.

Later, on February 18, 2018, Doe sent an email to “various Harvard University admissions personnel” in which she expressed concern that she would be “discriminated against because of her transgender status,” the court filing says. She said her concern was based on the conversation she had with the admissions officer; she also expressed concern that transgender individuals as a whole were not properly represented at Harvard and were being discriminated against in the application process.

Doe received a response from Julia B. Deland, director of admissions at the Graduate School of Education, on February 28, 2018 reminding her of the school’s non-discrimination policy. According to Harvard’s Title IX page, “Title IX is a federal civil rights law passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972. This law protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance.”

On March 2, 2018, Jane Doe was officially denied admission to the School of Education.


The lawsuit is the second time Doe has sought legal action for the alleged discrimination and sexual assault. On June 4, 2018, she filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD); Harvard University responded to that complaint on August 20, 2018, requesting the allegations be “dismissed with prejudice for lack of probable cause.” According to the latest court filing, Harvard alleged at the time that the applicant was “not a competitive applicant based on her academic record, test scores, work history, and personal statements,” essentially declaring her statistically unqualified for admission to either graduate school based on previous admissions cycles. However, the school did not address Doe’s complaints of sexual assault or the allegation about the admissions officer saying the university had not admitted any transgender students in three admissions cycles. “Harvard additionally provided no response or information as to why those incidents were not investigated other than to blatantly deny they occurred,” the January 2019 court document says.

On November 29, 2018, MCAD issued an “Investigative Disposition” siding with Harvard; however, “the disposition statement relied entirely upon Harvard’s own arguments and statistics as to Plaintiff’s apparently weak applications,” the January 2019 court filing says. Plus, the new filing claims, the disposition did not address the October 16, 2017 sexual assault allegation “or the high probability and likelihood of retaliation resulting both from Plaintiff’s rebuff of the advance and Harvard’s total failure to investigate.”

“The disposition statement totally failed to address either how the assault violated Harvard’s Title IX Policy or how the University failed Plaintiff by refusing to investigate or even acknowledge the assault had occurred,” the court filing continues.


According to Doe, her Title IX protections were violated, causing “substantial injury, damage, and loss, including, without limitation, emotional distress, psychological damages, loss of educational and career opportunities, reputational damages, economic injuries and other direct and consequential damages. As a result, Plaintiff is entitled to damages in an amount to be determined at trial, plus prejudgment interest, attorneys’ fees, expenses, costs and disbursements.”

Doe is requesting a “declaratory judgement” that Harvard University, Harvard’s Board of Overseers, the president and fellows of Harvard College, and Harrington unlawfully discriminated and retaliated against her. She also is requesting a “permanent injunction requiring Harvard to conduct all admissions in a manner that does not discriminate against transgender students and individuals.” She’s also requesting Harvard covers all legal fees and costs as well as whatever the court deems “just, equitable and proper.”

Lastly, the filing says, Doe is seeking a jury trial.


The filing comes on the heels of another discrimination case involving a group of Asian-American applicants and Harvard College admissions. The federal case has yet to be ruled on, but both sides have already said they will appeal if not happy with the decision.

Concerning the Jane Doe case, HBS did not immediately return a request for comment from Poets&Quants. However, Brian Kenny, an HBS spokesperson, told The Harvard Crimson that the university “does not generally comment on pending litigation.”

“Harvard Business School has stringent policies against the kind of conduct alleged in the complaint, and has thorough procedures to address it should any such behavior occur,” Kenny wrote. “Further, the School strives to attract and recruit a student population that is diverse in every dimension and to create a campus environment where every student can reach their full potential regardless of race, gender, gender identity, ethnicity, religious affiliation, or sexual orientation.”


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.