The Student Voice of Fordham Lincoln Center

The Observer

The Student Voice of Fordham Lincoln Center

The Observer

The Student Voice of Fordham Lincoln Center

The Observer


Former Professor and University Sued in Sexual Assault Case

The federal lawsuit alleges that the plaintiff was sexually harassed and assaulted by another faculty member
Fordham University filed a motion to dismiss Bowditch’s initial complaint, and the motion is currently awaiting a ruling from a judge.

Content warning: This article contains mentions of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

A former adjunct instructor and university alum filed a federal lawsuit alleging he was sexually harassed and sexually assaulted in 2022 by a tenured professor in Fordham’s department of sociology and anthropology during their tenures as faculty members.  

The civil suit, filed in May in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York by Julius Bowditch, Fordham College at Rose Hill ’17 and an adjunct instructor at the time, made the allegations against Oswaldo Hugo Benavides, a professor at the time of the alleged sexual misconduct.

Benavides, who has since resigned from the university, filed a counterclaim on Sept. 29 denying the allegations. In the filing, Benavides accused Bowditch of defamation and sought damages. 

The lawsuit also alleged that Fordham and Nancy Hark, associate vice president of human resources, retaliated against Bowditch after he filed Title VII and Title IX complaints with the university by reducing his scheduled course offerings. 

Bob Howe, associate vice president of communications and special adviser to the president, said the university does not comment on current litigation. Hark did not respond to a request for comment on Bowditch’s allegations against her. 

Fordham filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on Sept. 27, arguing in a memorandum of law that Bowditch failed to show Benavides’ alleged conduct occurred within the scope of his employment. In addition, the motion said the university did not retaliate against Bowditch and that Fordham took “swift action” that “ultimately resulted” in Benavides’ resignation. 

Bowditch is seeking a jury trial as well as compensatory, consequential, general, punitive and/or exemplary damages in amounts determined at trial, according to an amended complaint filed by Bowditch’s counsel on Oct. 25.

The initial complaint filed on May 12 alleges that Benavides served as Bowditch’s research grant adviser and wrote him letters of recommendation for his graduate school applications during his time as an undergraduate student at Fordham, which Benavides confirms in a counterclaim he filed on Sept. 29. Benavides denied allegations that he also served as Bowditch’s mentor during their time working together in his counterclaim.

The lawsuit alleged that it is within the context of Bowditch’s program that the alleged sexual harassment and assault took place.

After receiving a master of arts in the  social sciences with a concentration in anthropology from the University of Chicago in 2020, Bowditch became an adjunct faculty member at Fordham in 2021, at which point he began teaching anthropology courses. 

During his time at Fordham, Bowditch developed a grant proposal for a project titled “Decolonizing Anthropology Module Program,” for the university’s Teaching Race Across the Curriculum Grant (TRAC). According to both the amended complaint and the memorandum of law in support of the motion to dismiss filed by the university, Benavides signed off on Bowditch’s request for the grant funding and served as the project’s head writer. 

The lawsuit alleged that it is within the context of Bowditch’s program that the alleged sexual harassment and assault took place. According to the amended complaint, Benavides made suggestive comments and gestures during dinners with guest lecturers for the program and attempted to kiss and grope Bowditch after a dinner on Mar. 9. 

“We do not want to speculate on the plaintiff’s motivations for filing this frivolous action,” Helen Setton, senior litigation counsel at Nesenoff & Miltenberg LLP and a member of Benavides’ defense counsel, said. “However, we are confident that we will prove through the course of the litigation that there is no merit to any of Plaintiff’s claims against Professor Benavides.” 

Bowditch alleged in his complaint that, following a university-hosted dinner on the night of May 11, 2022, celebrating the renewal of the TRAC grant, Benavides suggested going to Bowditch’s apartment. The complaint recounts that in the early hours of May 12, 2022, Benavides forcibly groped and performed oral sex on Bowditch in Bowditch’s bed.

“He goes through seven or eight years working to build a career as an anthropologist, and the person at the center of it betrays him at every level and violates Julius’ body in his own home” Bowditch’s lawyer, Joshua Lax, counsel at Fasulo, Giordano and Di Maggio LLP and an adjunct instructor at Fordham Law School, said. “When Julius was not willing to accept the limits of what Fordham wanted, it turned its back on him.

As of Nov. 14, a judge has yet to rule on the motion filed by Fordham to dismiss the lawsuit.

Bowditch filed Title VII and Title IX complaints after the alleged assault on May 12, 2022, the initial complaint noted. Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, race, origin, religion and color. Title IX prevents sex-based discrimination in federally assisted education programs and activities. 

In August 2022, the university notified Bowditch that the Title VII investigation — conducted by private attorneys hired by Fordham — found that Benavides had violated the university’s Title VII policies, the documents from the civil suit filed by Bowditch’s lawyer state. According to a memorandum of law filed by Fordham’s legal counsel in support of its motion to dismiss Bowditch’s allegations against the university, Benavides resigned following the conclusion of the Title VII complaint. 

The Title IX complaint was originally rejected by the university in July 2022, who claimed the reported incident did not happen in connection with Fordham programs, events or activities, according to the amended complaint Bowditch’s lawyer filed in October.  

The investigation proceeded in August 2022 after Bowditch filed an appeal, which was stated in the initial complaint. The court documents also alleged that university personnel under Hark’s supervision encouraged him to withdraw his Title IX complaint after the Title VII investigation concluded. The amended complaint noted that in November 2022, the university received a letter from Bowditch raising the possibility of civil action. 

Bowditch’s complaint further stated that in February 2023, Bowditch found out that his Title IX complaint would be dismissed because Benavides’ was no longer a faculty member at Fordham. 

The initial complaint from Bowditch alleged that the university failed to prevent Benavides’ misconduct by not enacting training, policies, and procedures to deter the alleged behavior. The lawsuit alleged that the university took no action to remediate or address the harassment and that it retaliated against Bowditch by removing him from scheduled coursework for the spring 2023 semester, refusing to provide Bowditch’s requested accommodations for virtual instruction.  

As of Nov. 14, a judge has yet to rule on the motion filed by Fordham to dismiss the lawsuit.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Julius Bowditch graduated from the University of Chicago with a master’s degree in anthropology. As of Nov. 16, the article has been updated to reflect that Bowditch graduated with a master’s degree in the social sciences with a concentration in anthropology.
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About the Contributor
ALEXA VILLATORO, Former News Editor
Alexa Villatoro (she/her), FCLC ’24, is former news editor at The Observer. She was formerly a social media editor. She is an international studies major interested in how journalism connects and educates communities. Hailing from Seattle, she loves strolls in the rain to carefully curated Spotify playlists. If you can’t reach her, it’s because she is either napping, immersed in the morning news or spending time with family.

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