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Court Orders Talks in Wolff Lawsuit

By Vinu G. Ipe
Staff reporter

In a move to settle grievances in the lawsuit filed by Professor of Literature Cynthia G. Wolff against MIT, a Middlesex County Superior Court judge issued Aug. 25 a procedural order prohibiting further litigation until Sept. 8.

"The parties are to meet and to confer, promptly, diligently and in good faith, over the next two weeks in an effort to find a mutually agreeable way to resolve the issues the complaint embodies", the order stated.

In the civil action suit, which was filed in April, Wolff charged the Institute with breaching contractual employment obligations by allowing a "persistent and continuing pattern of professional, political, and sexual harassment towards Wolff [to continue] in the workplace."

The suit claims other members of the literature faculty imposed punitive measures against her when she decided to vote to deny certain junior faculty tenure. Wolff also alleges that Professor Theoharis C. Theoharis had told her he had been sexually harassed by Professor David M. Halperin. Upon airing her concerns to then-Provost John M. Deutch '61, his only response was that nothing could be done, according to Wolff.

Neither Wolff nor her lawyer could be reached for comment yesterday.

In May, MIT forwarded a motion to dismiss the case on grounds that the "plaintiff's claims [rested] on allegations that she is unhappy in her relations with her colleagues, but do not show that MIT [had] done anything to impinge on any of her legal rights."

In support of June motions for a conference and a stay in discovery, MIT stated "that the plaintiff's complaint makes highly personal allegations about the conduct of her colleagues in the [literature] department. These colleagues are not parties, but the intrusion on their privacy by the broadly cast net of [Wolff's] discovery requests will be as great as though they were parties."

The statement went on to mention that the discovery requests included 42 separate categories of documents containing "information of a highly sensitive and private nature concerning the plaintiff's colleagues." MIT admitted that judicial pleadings and discovery are privileged by law, but given the "unfettered disclosure of the plaintiff's gripes in the public media", the Institute complained the discovery might be used "unduly".

After a hearing and review in late June, MIT's motion to dismiss the case was denied. By default, the motion for a stay of discovery was also denied.

The Superior Court will hold a status conference in this civil action on Sept. 8 for the "purposes of receiving from the parties a report as to the progress of settlement negotiations, suggestions as to the future of the litigation and any other proposals that may facilitate resolution of the case."