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Discussions Remain Secret in Cynthia Wolff Lawsuit

By Charu Chaudhry

Lawyers involved in Literature Professor Cynthia G. Wolff's lawsuit against MIT remain tight-lipped about a Sept. 8 conference on the case.

The conference was ordered by Middlesex County Superior Court Justice James F. McHugh to obtain a report on the progress of settlement negotiations, recommendations on the future course of the litigation, and other proposals that may facilitate resolution of the case, according to court documents.

McHugh is currently working with all parties to resolve the case, said Elizabeth Seaman, an attorney representing MIT. Seaman said details on settlement talks are confidential.

Wolff's attorney, Stephen H. Oleskey, also refused to answer any questions or comment on the case's status.

The attorneys said McHugh requested the parties involved to keep details confidential to avoid adverse publicity.

Suit brought in April

In April, Wolff filed a complaint against MIT in Superior Court on the grounds of professional harassment, contending that "decisions at MIT were being dominated by political views [and] sexual preferences."

Specifically, Wolff alleged that the Institute's actions and lack of actions have engendered a "context of malice and destructive behavior" and a "hostile environment" in her workplace. In May, a motion by MIT attorneys asking the court to dismiss the suit failed.

In a statement, MIT Provost Mark S. Wrighton said, "The concerns raised -- collegiality, civility -- are serious and of paramount importance, especially in an academic community," and said that he hoped the problems could be solved out of court.

A pretrial conference was held Aug. 25 to attempt a prompt resolution of the case, which could be in the best interest of the involved parties as well as the public, the documents said. McHugh ordered the parties to meet and confer over a two-week period in a diligent effort to resolve the issues of the complaint.