Documents show sexual harassment at issue in NIU law dean's resignation

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DeKALB – Former Northern Illinois University law school Dean Eric Dannenmaier resigned June 21 in the aftermath of a university investigation into sexual harassment allegations by two women who were former employees, records show.

Official reports of findings sent to the victims in April by Sarah Adamski, associate director of investigations for the NIU Affirmative Action and Equity Compliance department, show the women claimed Dannenmaier asked them for intimate details of their love lives and sexual partners, and frequently invited them to his home after hours. One of them said Dannenmaier took her to Mexico on a conference trip where he bought her drinks outside of business and said “another day, another time,” implying a possible relationship between the two post-employment.

“There was enough information to conclude that Dannenmaier’s unwelcomed conduct of a sexual nature was severe and pervasive enough to create a hostile working environment for you,” Adamski wrote in both reports.

The Daily Chronicle is not identifying the women because the university determined they were victims of harassment. Both of them resigned the same day.

In a bid to keep the university from releasing documents related to its investigation, Dannenmaier filed an injunction against the university July 6. His motion was granted the next day, which led to the denial of a Freedom of Information Act request from the Daily Chronicle.

Dannenmaier’s attorney, Jennifer Murphy, declined to comment on the documents obtained by the Daily Chronicle while attacking NIU’s investigative methods.

“NIU’s internal adjudicatory process relating to the allegation lacked a due process hearing and other important elements necessary to assure fairness and accuracy,” Murphy said in an email. “NIU’s June 2017 final decision regarding the allegations is the only complete review of the record in context, and the publication of any documents prepared prior to that would be especially misleading.”

Dannenmaier, who has law degrees from Columbia University in New York, Oxford University in England, and Boston University, was hired as law dean in June 2016. He was placed on administrative leave in February after the Feb. 15 filing of complaints from the two women, who he hired as temp employees. The complaints prompted an investigation by the university’s Affirmative Action and Equity Compliance department.

Dannenmaier's appeal of Adamski's findings was denied, according to a June 9 memo from Anne Kaplan, NIU vice president of outreach, engagement and regional development. Kaplan wrote that Dannenmaier said in retrospect that his approach to work led to "uncertain professional barriers" and relationships with the two women that "became too familiar."

“The issue here is not whether Dean Dannenmaier’s comments were sexual, overly intrusive and inappropriate – many were – but whether he knew or had reason to know that they were unwelcome,” Kaplan wrote. “The complainants, at least in retrospect, claim to have been made uncomfortable by Dean Dannenmaier’s communication style and his attempts to be more of a friend than a supervisor.”

After Dannenmaier’s resignation, university officials said he could have a role in the Division of Research and Innovation Partnerships at NIU. His work there would have to be concluded on or before Dec. 31, under the terms of a mutual agreement. Lisa Miner, NIU’s senior director of institutional communications, said the agreement was meant to ensure there would be no further legal ramifications for the school.

“NIU arranged for a timely resolution demonstrating that NIU holds employees at every level accountable for their behavior,” Miner wrote in an email. “Our agreement with Mr. Dannenmaier protects the university from the possibility of a protracted and expensive internal hearing process to which all tenured faculty are entitled, with an uncertain outcome.

“It also forecloses the possibility of future legal action.”

Dannenmaier was replaced as dean by professor Mark Cordes in an interim capacity.

NIU spokesman Joe King had said that the university believes documents related to the investigation should be made public, and if the court rules in NIU’s favor, they will be released. The case is next due in court Sept. 21. University officials also declined to comment on the memos.

University investigators interviewed the two women in February and March, records show. Dannenmaier also was interviewed.

In one of her reports about the situation, Adamski noted that both women arranged to have the same last day of work because neither wanted to be alone with Dannenmaier.

One woman described her work life as “miserable” and often tried to avoid one-on-one interactions with Dannenmaier so she would not be subjected to his unwelcome conduct, while the other said she felt “creeped out” and uncomfortable at work and stopped wearing pencil skirts, the memos show.

Both said they were reluctant to object to Dannenmaier’s conduct because of his role as dean of the College of Law.

Adamski’s reports also noted that Dannenmaier had said he failed to recall any of the women’s claims. He also suggested that the hundreds of text messages he submitted to investigators indicated a mutual and social relationship between himself and the women, records show.

The reports’ findings, however, said that welcomeness to friendly conduct did not equate to welcomeness to sexual conduct.

"You did not reciprocate the unprompted or unsolicited sexual comments or language by asking Dannenmaier reciprocal questions or comments of a sexual nature," both reports read. "You did not initiate sexually explicit or charged commentary or language with Dannenmaier that would have indicated that such type of behavior was welcomed."