Morehouse College ignored student’s sexual harassment complaint, lawsuit says

The statue of Martin Luther King Jr. in front of King’s Chapel on Morehouse College campus. AJC FILE PHOTO.

The statue of Martin Luther King Jr. in front of King’s Chapel on Morehouse College campus. AJC FILE PHOTO.

Morehouse College administrators did little to help a student who complained a faculty member sexually harassed him, according to a new lawsuit.

The alleged victim was a first-year student at the Atlanta college when he went on a study-abroad trip to Brazil in May 2015 with other students and faculty when he said the harassment began.

The unidentified student said assistant professor Robert Peterson ordered the student, who was a minor, alcoholic drinks on the flight to Brazil. Peterson groped his genitals on the flight, the student’s attorney said in the complaint. Peterson ordered alcoholic drinks for other underage students at a pool party during the trip and sent sexually explicit photos to students, according to the complaint.

“Peterson was known as a professor that exchanged good grades for sex,” the complaint says.

One faculty member reported the alleged harassment to a department chair, but it wasn’t forwarded to the office assigned to handle such complaints. The student said he filed a formal complaint in December 2017, but Morehouse said it didn’t receive the complaint. The student resubmitted the complaint in January.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in Fulton County Superior Court.

The student said he suffered academically and left in fall 2017. Administrators did little to help him when he attempted to return to Morehouse at the start of this semester, the student and his family claims. The student, who no longer attends Morehouse, is seeking unspecified monetary and punitive damages.

“The trauma of what transpired made it difficult for him to function daily, let alone continue his education at Morehouse,” said the student’s attorney, Cade Parian.

Documents filed by the student’s attorney said Peterson was put on administrative leave and an external investigator recommended termination. Peterson no longer teaches at Morehouse.

Peterson “vehemently denied” the allegations, according to internal documents in the lawsuit complaint. A telephone call and email to Peterson for comment were not returned.

Morehouse said in a statement it does not comment on pending litigation.