Boston University has filed a motion to dismiss several counts in a lawsuit filed in April by two female students that accuses a prominent music professor of sexual harassment and the college of failing to rein in the behavior.
The 18-page court document, obtained by the Globe, argues that some of the claims against the professor, Eric Ruske, are based on ambiguous evidence, calling the suit “overwrought.”
“The complaint does not assert that Ruske sexually assaulted the plaintiffs, or touched them inappropriately beyond a few hugs and kisses on the cheek, or demanded — or even suggested — sexual favors as a quid pro quo for better grades,” states the motion, which was filed last week.
Carmen Durso, the attorney representing the students in the lawsuit, said Tuesday he was “baffled” by some of the arguments raised in the motion.
“You don’t have to have any physical touching for it to be sexual harassment,” Durso said. The plaintiffs must present a response to the motion by next week.
The motion challenges claims that BU was negligent in hiring and supervising Ruske, intentional infliction of emotional distress by Ruske, and battery and assault of the students by Ruske.
Lawrence S. Elswit, the BU attorney who submitted the motion, could not be reached Tuesday. A representative for the school declined to comment on the motion or lawsuit.
The lawsuit filed by Erin Shyr, a rising senior at BU, and Maria Currie, who formerly attended BU and recently graduated from New England Conservatory, alleges Ruske had a “reputation for making offensive, vulgar, and sexually charged statements to students.”
The motion said the claims of this reputation are “vague and hyperbolic.”
“Rumors about an employee’s behavior do not put an employer on notice of that person’s unfitness to do his job or, as in this case, that he was likely to engage in unacceptable conduct,” the motion states.
The harassment by Ruske alleged in the lawsuit dates to 2013, when Currie was a sophomore at BU’s College of Fine Arts, or CFA.
The suit alleges that Ruske would often comment on Currie’s attire, and that he said listening to her play made him feel like the two were having intercourse.
In 2014, according to the suit, he greeted Shyr with hugs and kisses on the cheek. He allegedly asked both students via text or email to send him photos, and apologized if he made them feel uncomfortable.
Officials at CFA who handle sexual assault complaints told Shyr and Currie that Ruske may have been unaware he violated the school’s sexual harassment policies because of Ruske’s “vibrant and effusive” personality, according to the lawsuit.
“His conduct is not the behavior you would want a professor to have,” Shyr said Tuesday. “Not someone who has so much power over people, over young students who are incredibly impressionable.”
The motion did not challenge five other claims in the suit, including two alleging that the university violated Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education.
BU’s motion was filed a day after a sexual-abuse support group demanded BU remove Ruske from teaching at a university-run youth music camp in the Berkshires. He is now teaching a workshop at BU’s Tanglewood Institute, a summer camp for students ages 14 to 20 in Lenox.Miguel Otárola can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @motarola123.