Student sues university after accuser allowed to turn rape accusation into senior project

Charlotte Personal Injury Attorney Matthew R. Arnold of Arnold & Smith, PLLC answers the question “What can you sue for in a personal injury case?”


A student at New York City’s Columbia University has brought suit against the Ivy League school, alleging that it tolerated and even encouraged the defamatory words and actions of a young woman who claimed she had been raped by the student.

Emma Sulkowicz Charlotte Injury Attorney North Carolina Harassment LawyerThe student, Paul Nungesser, was accused by Emma Sulkowicz of being a “serial rapist” and told authorities he assaulted her after a class. Authorities investigated Sulkowicz’s claims and rejected them, according to the Daily Mail. The New York Post has reported that Nungesser and Sulkowicz were close friends and sexual partners before the allegation.

After the accusation, Nungesser alleges, Sulkowicz began toting a mattress around campus as a symbol of “her status as a victim and [to] remind everyone [that] her alleged attacker remain[ed] on campus.” The university permitted her to take the mattress “into classes, the library and campus-provided transportation.” Nungesser also alleged that a university-owned website presented Sulkowicz’s rape allegation as factual.

New York Senator Kristen Gillibrand invited Sulkowicz to the 2015 State of the Union address in the nation’s capital. The New York Times called Sulkowicz “a woman with a mattress, refusing to keep her violation private, carrying with her a stark reminder of where it took place.”

With the help of her professor, Jon Kessler, Sulkowicz—who majored in visual arts—turned her mattress-toting into a senior thesis called the “Mattress Project,” according to the Daily Mail. As a part of the project, Sulkowicz has continued to publically parade the mattress, calling for Nungesser’s arrest, the Daily Mail reports.

Nungesser was cleared by a university court, and Sulkowicz actually declined to press criminal charges.

Nonetheless, aside from making life “unbearably stressful,” Nungesser alleges, Sulkowicz’s success at garnering publicity for the “Mattress Project” has resulted in media reports in 35 countries. At Columbia, Nungesser claims, he is considered a “serial rapist” and “has been subjected to severe, pervasive… and threatening behavior by Columbia students.” Nungesser—who is a German citizen—said Sulkowicz’s plan to bring her mattress to graduation may prevent his family from traveling from Germany to New York City to participate in graduation ceremonies.

Nungesser names Columbia, its board of trustees, President Lee C. Bollinger and Professor Jon Kessler as defendants. He seeks damages for “gender-based harassment and defamation.”

Sulkowicz told the Daily Mail that Nungesser sued Professor Kessler for allowing her “to make an art piece.” She described the “Mattress Project” as “an artistic expression of the personal trauma” that she has experienced at Columbia.

Sulkowicz said that after she reported the alleged rape in 2013, investigators botched the investigation. Sulkowicz and 22 other students sued Columbia in 2014 alleging the school failed to properly investigate sexual assault claims and mistreated assault victims.

If you or someone you know has any questions regarding potential personal injury claims, feel free to contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC in Charlotte, North Carolina for a free consultation. Call toll free at (955) 370-2828 or click here for additional resources.



About the Author

ARNOLD & SMITH LAW Matthew Arnold is a Managing Member of Arnold & Smith, PLLC, where he focuses on the areas of family law, divorce, child custody, child support, alimony and equitable distribution.

Mr. Arnold was raised in Charlotte, where he graduated from Providence Senior High School. He attended Belmont Abbey College, where he graduated cum laude, before attending law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a full academic scholarship.

A board-certified specialist in the practice of Family Law, Mr. Arnold is admitted to practice in all state courts in North Carolina, in the United States Federal Court for the Western District of North Carolina, in the North Carolina Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, and in the Fourth Circuit United States Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.

In his free time, Mr. Arnold enjoys golfing and spending time with his wife and three children.






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