Judge sends sexual harassment suit against UM over ex-music professor to trial
A federal judge ruled Thursday that a lawsuit can proceed to trial against the University of Michigan involving sexual harassment allegations iagainst David Daniels, a former professor and renowned opera singer.
Senior U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Tarnow is allowing the case filed in 2018 by Andrew Lipian, a former graduate vocal student at the UM School of Music, Theatre and Dance.
Lipian alleges that Daniels sexually assaulted and harassed him and that the university failed to enforce its policies against such conduct.
Tarnow is allowing the case to move to trial on one count, but dismissed seven other charges against UM, which fired Daniels last month.
"David Daniels came to the University of Michigan with all the prestige of one of the greatest countertenors of the age," wrote Tarnow in his ruling. "Whether decision-makers at the University knew of his alleged proclivities towards exploiting power-dynamics with his students is unknown. Equally unknown is the nature of his relationship with Andrew Lipian, his promising protégé who arrived at U of M thrilled to be studying under Daniels and left feeling traumatized and betrayed."
"The evidence also makes a triable issue out of who at the University knew of Daniels’s relationship with Lipian, and when," the judge continued. "Finally, there are genuine questions of material facts as to the sufficiency of the University’s responses to the notice provided."
UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the university is pleased the court dismissed most of the complaint.
"Judge Tarnow dismissed eight of the nine claims and also found that none of the individual defendants belonged in the lawsuit," Fitzgerald. "At the University of Michigan, we take claims of harassment very seriously. We take prompt and appropriate action in response to claims of harassment, including with respect to Mr. Lipian."
Daniels alleges that Lipian invited him to his apartment on March 24, 2017, served him several drinks of bourbon, gave him the sleep medication Ambien and touched his genitals.
A short time later, Daniels told Lipian he would likely receive a fellowship covering his two years of master's degree studies and offered to help in "opening doors" for him in his career.
A faculty member became aware of the alleged sexual assault and reported it to the UM Office of Institutional Equity, but university officials were indifferent, the suit alleges.
Bloomfield Hills lawyer Deborah Gordon, who represents Lipian, said she hopes the case illuminates numerous issues related to sexual misconduct.
"Sexual harassment of students by faculty is a significant problem on campuses," Gordon said. "As the university has admitted, there is a major power differential that puts students at risk. The dean of the School of Music, Theatre and Dance (SMTD) testified that she did not know of any training of faculty that was required. Students are afraid to report and feel they have few options. We hope that this case sheds some light on this issue."
A Texas grand jury indicted Daniels and his husband, William Scott Walters, last summer in the sexual assault of an incapacitated man in 2010.
An internal UM investigation also showed that Daniels harassed nearly two dozen students, solicited some for sex, sent them nude photos and more, according to the university.
The UM Board of Regents approved the firing of Daniels in March, making him the first UM faculty member to be stripped of tenure in 60 years.