scorecardresearch Skip to main content

MIT professor sues after he was forced to resign from institute following sexual harassment allegations

An empty seating area on the campus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge on Dec. 9, 2020.CODY O'LOUGHLIN/NYT

A prominent Massachusetts Institute of Technology biology professor who was forced two months ago to resign from the biomed institute where he worked following sexual harassment allegations has filed a lawsuit claiming he is the victim of false claims made to “exact revenge against a former lover,” according to court records.

Dr. David M. Sabatini says he had a consensual sexual relationship with his accuser, who worked with him at MIT’s Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, according to the suit filed Wednesday, which refers to Sabatini as “a world-renowned medical and scientific researcher and a tenured professor at MIT with a stellar reputation who conducted groundbreaking research.”


After Sabatini ended the affair in 2019 and said “on multiple occasions that he did not want a long-term relationship” with his coworker, she continued to pursue him and eventually “fabricated claims that Dr. Sabatini had sexually harassed her (when in fact the exact opposite was the case),” according to the lawsuit.

The Whitehead Institute conducted a “sham” investigation in which “the attorneys conducting the supposed impartial investigation spent literally hours attempting to elicit unflattering information about Dr. Sabatini while their descriptions of what lab culture was really like were ignored,” he alleges.

As a result, Sabatini lost his lab and awards worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the damage to his reputation may make it impossible for him to find future funding for his research, according to the filings. His mental health has “deteriorated to the extent that he was advised not to live alone and to have friends and family monitor him,” the documents say.

Sabatini remains a tenured professor at MIT, where he was placed on administrative leave in August.

His suit alleges defamation, wrongful interference with his employment and his relationships with funders and scientific journals, and both intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.


He seeks unspecified money damages and attorneys’ fees and names his accuser, the Whitehead Institute, and the institute’s director, Dr. Ruth Lehmann, as defendants. The Globe does not identify alleged victims of sexual harassment without their permission.

Lehmann and an MIT spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

Sabatini claims the investigation into the allegations against him was biased and that he was not allowed to have lawyers present when he was interviewed, though his accuser had a high-powered employment lawyer at her side for her interview.

The investigators’ 229-page report did not reach a conclusion about whether Sabatini and his accuser’s relationship was consensual and “consisted of rehashing and repeating at enormous length the same small set of complaints about the demanding nature of work at the cutting edge of scientific research in a laboratory singularly devoted to the truth,” according to the lawsuit.

The Whitehead Institute forced Sabatini to resign on Aug. 20, one week after it received the investigators’ report, though institute leaders had not provided a copy to Sabatini or given him an opportunity to respond, he said in the filings.

On the day he resigned, he was fired by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which had provided funding for his position at the institute, according to the suit.

Even after Sabatini lost his job, he says, his accuser continued to make false statements about his alleged abuse, comparing him to Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced former movie producer who was convicted last year of rape and criminal sexual assault after multiple women accused him of sexual violence.


“By their individual and collective actions, which continue to date, the Defendants ensured that Dr. Sabatini’s professional and personal reputations were destroyed, and his career as a leading scientific mind was effectively over,” the lawsuit reads.

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at Follow him @jeremycfox.