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Forty women made sweeping allegations of sexual assault in a lawsuit against James L. Toback ’66 and the Harvard Club of New York City late last year, alleging Toback repeatedly used his membership at the private alumni venue to abuse five of the plaintiffs.
The suit was filed in New York State Supreme Court on Dec. 5, just days after the Adult Survivors Act created a one-year window for survivors of sexual assault in the state to bring civil lawsuits against their abusers and other parties that enabled the abuse.
Toback, a 78-year-old filmmaker and Oscar-nominated screenwriter, faced accusations of sexual assault and abuse from 38 women in the initial lawsuit. Lawyers filed an amended complaint on Dec. 16, bringing the total number of plaintiffs accusing Toback to 40.
Toback, a former Crimson editor, is accused in the lawsuit of taking advantage of his membership in the Harvard Club of New York City to sexually abuse women by “luring his victims to the Harvard Club for meals and drinks and attacking them in the Harvard Club’s dining room, stairwells, bathrooms and hotel rooms.”
“Toback also frequently used hotel rooms, including his private room, at the Harvard Club to falsely imprison and sexually abuse his victims,” the lawsuit stated.
The lawsuit seeks to hold the Club accountable for negligence, claiming it allowed Toback’s “serial sexual abuse to occur unchecked at the Harvard Club for decades.”
The lawsuit comes five years after the Los Angeles Times published an investigation in which 38 women accused Toback of sexual harassment over several decades. Toback denied the allegations at the time, claiming that for 22 years he was “biologically incapable” of the behavior alleged by the women because he had diabetes and a heart condition.
Toback did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
A spokesperson for the Harvard Club of New York City provided a letter to The Crimson that the Club’s leadership sent to its members in December.
The letter stated that “as is the Club’s policy, we do not comment on pending litigation.”
Allegations of sexual harassment against Toback involving the Harvard Club of New York City were first reported as early as 1989 in the now-defunct Spy Magazine, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that the Harvard Club of New York was previously informed about Toback’s misconduct and launched an investigation into his behavior, but did not complete the investigation because Toback threatened the Club with legal action.
“The Harvard Club valued Toback’s membership more than the lives of the young women Toback sexually assaulted on its premises,” the lawsuit stated.
When the Club learned about the allegations against Toback in fall 2017, it conducted an internal investigation and Toback’s membership was “promptly terminated by the Club’s Board,” wrote Harvard Club of New York City President James D. Coady ’92, First Vice President Stephen P. Younger ’77, and Secretary Angela K. Dorn ’87 in the December letter.
“At that time, the incidents reportedly occurred in the 1980s and in 2012, and as was noted in a press article, the women did not inform Club management at the time,” the Club’s leadership wrote in the letter.
Ross E. Leonoudakis, a lawyer at Nix Patterson — the firm that is representing the plaintiffs — said that women who decided to speak out against Toback in 2017 had no method of legal recourse until the passage of the Adult Survivors Act.
“There’s typically a situation where plaintiffs delay reporting, or do not report being sexually assaulted at all, for a number of reasons: shame, embarrassment, but also fear of retaliation,” Leonoudakis said.
“With the Adult Survivors Act, for the first time, the plaintiffs in this case — and many survivors of sexual assault throughout the state of New York — have an opportunity to seek justice and to be heard,” Leonoudakis added.
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