Accused Rapist in 'Mattress Girl' Case Sues Columbia University


Paul Nungesser, the Columbia University student accused of rape by fellow student Emma Sulkowicz, whose mattress-carrying protest drew national attention, has filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the school. Nungesser accuses the university of failing to protect him from what he calls Sulkowicz’s “harassment campaign.”

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in Manhattan federal court. According to the Associated Press, the suit accuses the school of sponsoring “the gender-based harassment and defamation of Paul resulted in an intimidating, hostile, demeaning … learning and living environment.” It also names Sulkowicz’s visual arts professor Jon Kessler as a defendant, who approved her performance art project, “Mattress Perofrmance (Carry that Weight),” as a senior thesis.

““Day-to-day life is unbearably stressful, as Emma and her mattress parade around campus each and every day,” Nungesser’s complaint reads. The suit also names Columbia’s president, Lee C. Bollinger, as an individual defendant, as well as the university’s board of trustees. The suit says it will make it difficult for Nungesser’s parents to fly in from Germany for graduation, and that his “well-being and future prospects are suffering immensely.” The suit asks for a trial by jury and unspecified damages.

As we reported in February, Nungesser was found not responsible in the alleged rape by the campus disciplinary board. Two other women also accused Nungesser of sexual assault; the board found him not responsible on those charges as well. Another accuser, a male student, says he filed a complaint against Nungesser with a campus organization they both belong to, and a Title IX complaint against the school. (We’ve reached out to the male student to see if the Title IX case is still active.)

“By refusing to protect Paul Nungesser,” the complaint says, “Columbia University first became a silent bystander and then turned into an active supporter of a fellow student’s harassment campaign by institutionalizing and heralding it.”

We’ve reached out to both Nungesser’s attorney, Andrew T. Miltenberg, and Sulkowicz for comment, and will update if we hear back. In emails to the Associated Press and the New York Times, Sulkowicz called the lawsuit “ridiculous.” She writes:

I think it’s ridiculous that Paul would sue not only the school but one of my past professors for allowing me to make an art piece. It’s ridiculous that he would read it as a ‘bullying strategy,’ especially given his continued public attempts to smear my reputation, when really it’s just an artistic expression of the personal trauma I’ve experienced at Columbia. If artists are not allowed to make art that reflect on our experiences, then how are we to heal?

Image via Flickr/Mike Steele

Contact the author at [email protected].
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