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Lawsuit alleges MIT professor ‘groomed’ young women, ran ‘sexually charged’ lab

A person passed in front of the Great Dome on Killian Court at the MIT campus in Cambridge.Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg

A woman whose sexual harassment allegation forced a prominent Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor to resign from a biomedical institute has filed a civil lawsuit claiming he coerced her into sex and that the laboratory he ran had a “toxic and sexually charged” environment.

The woman, whom the Globe is not identifying because she is the alleged victim of sexual harassment, filed a counterclaim Tuesday in Middlesex Superior Court against Dr. David M. Sabatini, who in an October lawsuit said he was the victim of false claims made to “exact revenge against a former lover.”

After an investigation into the allegations, Sabatini was fired by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, forced to resign from the Whitehead Institute of Biomedical Research, and placed on administrative leave by MIT, which is considering revoking his tenure, according to court documents.


Sabatini’s lawyers denied the new allegations against him.

“David Sabatini, the actual scientist, colleague, manager and mentor, bears no resemblance to the person described in the recently filed counterclaim, and that will become clear as this case progresses,” his attorneys said in a statement.

MIT and the Whitehead Institute did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Ellen Zucker, a lawyer who represents the woman who filed the suit, declined to comment.

In the October lawsuit, Sabatini said he had a consensual sexual relationship with his accuser but ended the affair in 2019, informing her “on multiple occasions that he did not want a long-term relationship.” But 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 his lawsuit.

But in her lawsuit, the woman said that Sabatini “groomed” her “while she was a graduate student under his mentorship, inviting her to social events at his lab where alcohol flowed freely” and where conversations were “85% sexual [and] 15% science.” Before supporting her advancement, Sabatini asked whether she was “fun” and sexually available, according to the lawsuit.


Sabatini created “a highly sexualized lab environment” where colleagues discussed sexual exploits and where he tried to engage women in discussions about their sex lives and rewarded those willing to flirt with him, according to the lawsuit.

He allegedly pursued an undergraduate student working in his lab, offering to pay for a flight and hotel so he could spend time with her while traveling abroad, according to the lawsuit. In a meeting with another young woman, Sabatini allegedly said he wanted to work on “a project trying to figure out why pubic hair is the length that it is.”

The woman who filed the lawsuit says Sabatini coerced her into sex in 2018 after inviting her to Washington, D.C., to meet his colleagues. In his hotel room, he proposed they begin having casual sex and attempted to brush away her concerns about his influence over her career, according to court documents.

“In the end, although she never consented, he had his way,” the lawsuit stated.

Sabatini’s demands for sex continued, occurring more than 10 times in 2018 and 2019, often expressed though obscene text messages, the lawsuit alleged. When the woman tried to cut ties with him, he allegedly told her she was “crazy.”

The woman eventually left the Whitehead Fellows Program two years early to get away from Sabatini, according to court documents.


When a new director came to the Whitehead Institute in 2020, she initiated a survey on sexual harassment, which led to an investigation of Sabatini’s lab. Sabatini allegedly interrogated subordinates about their participation in the survey and investigation and threatened them not to raise concerns, according to the lawsuit.

In April, the woman told investigators about her experiences with Sabatini and he soon began a campaign of retaliation, telling others that she had pursued him sexually and embarked on a vendetta when she was rejected, her lawsuit claims.

Her lawsuit alleges that Sabatini sexually harassed her, retaliated against her, created a hostile work environment, committed assault and battery against her when he coerced her into sex, intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon her, and interfered with her career.

It seeks attorneys’ fees, punitive damages, and compensatory damages for the harm to her reputation, emotional distress and suffering, and payment of her medical bills.

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