Marian University is facing a lawsuit alleging the school acted with deliberate indifference while one of its professors sexually harassed a male student. The suit accuses the Indianapolis university of fostering "an environment which used intimidation and threats to prevent students from formally complaining about discrimination and sexual harassment.”
The lawsuit was filed this week in federal court by former student Manu Ganesh, who alleges that in 2014 and 2015 he was “subjected to egregious acts of sexual harassment and sexual assault from his instructor.”
Marian acknowledged one of the incidents to IBJ, but said it was “confident” it had addressed the issue fully. The professor, Garren Gebhardt, is still on faculty at Marian’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. He did not immediately reply to IBJ's request for comment.
The conduct allegedly happened during several incidents at Marian, a private Catholic university that serves about 2,700 students, according to the suit.
During November 2014, Ganesh alleges that the professor touched the plaintiff’s genitals during class, attempting to trick the plaintiff into “believing the touching was part of the learning process.”
Osteopathic medicine often involves touch. In Osteopathic manipulative medicine, doctors “use their hands to diagnose illness and injury and encourage your body’s natural tendency toward self-healing,” according to Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine.
Gebhardt’s Marian University biography web page states one of his clinical research interests is “using physical touch to diagnose and treat members of the LGBT community."
In April 2015, the plaintiff asked Gebhardt about the location of the “counter strain point,” a medical term, the suit says.
The professor asked Ganesh “to lie down on the examination table in the lab, using his authority as an instructor and under the guise of medical training, to force [the] plaintiff into a vulnerable position where he could not defend himself,” according to the suit, and Gebhardt “proceeded to fondle [the] plaintiff’s genitals.”
The suit alleges Gebhardt also at various times allegedly sniffed the plaintiff’s body, made sexual comments about his scent, invited him on lunch dates, and exposed himself to the victim in a bathroom.
At one point, Gebhardt gave Ganesh a failing score on a practical exam, an action the student says “was taken solely to punish [him] for failing to submit” to the professor’s sexual demands.
In a written statement to IBJ, Marian spokesman Mark Apple said that the university "fully investigated Mr. Ganesh's complaint against Gebhardt, which was made in August 2015, and determined that the hand touching occurred during a demonstration by Dr. Gebhardt of a medical procedure to identify counter strain points in the pelvic region. This occurred in a classroom in the presence of a witness."
Apple said the university “fully cooperated” with a November 2015 investigation after the plaintiff complained to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights about the issue.
"We have not seen the lawsuit filed by Mr. Ganesh, and cannot comment on it, but we are confident that we have addressed Mr. Ganesh's complaint appropriately,” Apple told IBJ.
But the suit alleges that Marian University officials ignored the incidents.
"Plaintiff attempted to complain to administration at Marian University, including but not limited to the course director, student affairs officer, and dean, about the sexual harassment and sexual assault, but the administration refused to hear him out and did nothing to rectify or stop the harassment,” the suit says. "Instead, the administration ratified and condoned the behavior and allowed it to continue unabated.”
The suit says Marian failed to provide the victim with “policies or grievance procedures providing for prompt and equitable resolution of his sexual assault/harassment complaint, nor did they provide a time frame for the resolution of his complaints.”
Ganesh’s lawyers did not immediately reply to IBJ’s request for comment.
Along with seeking monetary damages, the suit asks for the court to force Marian to develop and implement policies providing for the training of employees, for the reporting and investigation of complaints of civil rights abuses and to create disciplinary measures for people found responsible to have committed one.