US lawsuit accuses Harvard of ignoring sexual harassment
Harvard's Widener Library, pictured in 2007. A Palestinian student with a full scholarship to the storied university had his visa canceled Friday for friends' social media posts deemed critical of the U.S. (Photo: Joseph Williams/Flickr/cc)

Three women sued Harvard University on Tuesday alleging that the prestigious US institution ignored sexual harassment allegations against a prominent professor.

The plaintiffs, all doctoral students, say that anthropology professor John Comaroff kissed and groped students without their consent and threatened to sabotage their careers if they complained.

Margaret Czerwienski, Lilia Kilburn and Amulya Mandava say in their civil case that the 77-year-old Comaroff was allowed to get away with the alleged behavior for years.

"All three plaintiffs repeatedly complained to Harvard administrators," said the suit filed in a Boston federal court.

"But the university brushed them aside and opted to protect its star professor over vulnerable students," it added.

The lawsuit says the women first approached Harvard staff about Comaroff nearly five years ago.

It alleges that Comaroff kissed Kilburn on the mouth without her consent, squeezed her thigh in public and told her she could be raped or killed in parts of Africa for being in a same-sex relationship.

The lawsuit says Kilburn was subjected to "a continuing nightmare that included more forced kissing, groping, persistent invitations to socialize alone off-campus, and coercive control."

Allegations against Comaroff were first detailed in the university's newspaper, The Harvard Crimson more than a year ago, according to the New York Times.

Comaroff was placed on administrative leave for this year's spring semester after an investigation last month found that he engaged in verbal conduct that violated Harvard's policies on harassment, the Times reported.

He was also barred from teaching required courses through the next academic year.

Comaroff was not found responsible for unwanted sexual contact though, the paper added.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, describes the measures as "limited, temporary sanctions."

Harvard University's media team did not respond to requests for comment from AFP.

Lawyers for Comaroff disputed the accusations against their client in a statement carried by the New York Times.

"Professor Comaroff categorically denies ever harassing or retaliating against any student," they said.