Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project.
Andrew Burton/Getty Images/FILE
Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project.
Now playing
02:44
Columbia settles lawsuit
Ohio State University's McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion
Ohio State University
Ohio State University's McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion
Now playing
01:21
Ex-Ohio State divers file sexual abuse lawsuit
ohio state university abuse_00011416.jpg
ohio state university abuse_00011416.jpg
Now playing
02:49
Ohio State accusers describe alleged sexual abuse
Current University of Southern California(USC) student Daniella Mohazab (R) speaks while seated beside attorney Gloria Allred at a press conference with former USC student Angela Esquivel Hawkins in Los Angeles, California on May 22, 2018. - A lawsuit has been filed against the University of Southern California (USC) on behalf of one of the students and calling on USC to conduct an independent investigation on allegations made by students alleging inappropriate conduct by Doctor George Tyndall, the gynecologist assigned to examine and treat USC students. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)        (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
Current University of Southern California(USC) student Daniella Mohazab (R) speaks while seated beside attorney Gloria Allred at a press conference with former USC student Angela Esquivel Hawkins in Los Angeles, California on May 22, 2018. - A lawsuit has been filed against the University of Southern California (USC) on behalf of one of the students and calling on USC to conduct an independent investigation on allegations made by students alleging inappropriate conduct by Doctor George Tyndall, the gynecologist assigned to examine and treat USC students. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:01
Gynecologist sued over inappropriate touching
US Marines accused
CNN
US Marines accused
Now playing
01:37
3 Marines accused of sexual assault
Former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar is seen in the 55th District Court where Judge Donald Allen Jr. bound him over on June 23, 2017 in Mason, Michigan to stand trial on 12 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. / AFP PHOTO / JEFF KOWALSKY        (Photo credit should read JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar is seen in the 55th District Court where Judge Donald Allen Jr. bound him over on June 23, 2017 in Mason, Michigan to stand trial on 12 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. / AFP PHOTO / JEFF KOWALSKY (Photo credit should read JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:25
MSU reaches settlement with Nassar victims
William Strampel
Michigan Attorney General's office
William Strampel
Now playing
02:07
Former MSU dean accused of assaulting students
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, flanked by Michigan State Police Director Kriste Etue and special prosecutor William Forsyth, said no one at Michigan State University will be off limits to the investigation.
CNN
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, flanked by Michigan State Police Director Kriste Etue and special prosecutor William Forsyth, said no one at Michigan State University will be off limits to the investigation.
Now playing
02:07
Michigan attorney general slams MSU board
WASHINGTON, DC :  Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Capitol Hill June 6, 2017 in Washington, DC. DeVos testified on the fiscal year 2018 budget request for the Education Department.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Win McNamee/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC : Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Capitol Hill June 6, 2017 in Washington, DC. DeVos testified on the fiscal year 2018 budget request for the Education Department. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:56
Campus sexual assault guidance to be reviewed
denhollander gymnast nassar accuser
CNN/Skype
denhollander gymnast nassar accuser
Now playing
01:41
Gymnast: MSU official scoffed at allegations
biden consent requires affirmative consent bts_00004805.jpg
Mason Cable Network
biden consent requires affirmative consent bts_00004805.jpg
Now playing
01:14
Biden: Consent requires affirmative consent
facebook live chicago teen jnd orig vstop_00000430.jpg
Getty Images
facebook live chicago teen jnd orig vstop_00000430.jpg
Now playing
00:56
Police: Teen's sexual assault on Facebook Live
colorado sexual assault sentence impact statement sot lv_00002525.jpg
CNN
colorado sexual assault sentence impact statement sot lv_00002525.jpg
Now playing
00:57
Sexual assault survivor: 'My life has been ruined'
Brock Turner Mugshot
Santa Clara County Sheriff
Brock Turner Mugshot
Now playing
03:56
Stanford rape survivor's letter to her attacker
vanderbilt rape case conviction pkg newday_00012115.jpg
WZTV
vanderbilt rape case conviction pkg newday_00012115.jpg
Now playing
03:00
Former Vanderbilt football player found guilty of rape
Students and adults walk in front of the Old Main building, on the campus of Penn State University, in State College, Pennsylvania.
Shutterstock
Students and adults walk in front of the Old Main building, on the campus of Penn State University, in State College, Pennsylvania.
Now playing
01:00
Penn State sexual abuse scandal in 60 seconds (2016)

Story highlights

Student's lawyer: "He's worried every time he gives his name out"

Victims rights group warns against treating perpetrators like victims

CNN —  

Columbia University has settled a lawsuit filed by a student over its handling of a sexual assault allegation.

A university investigation in 2013 found Paul Nungesser, an international student from Germany, not responsible of sexual misconduct stemming from allegations by fellow sophomore Emma Sulkowicz. CNN does not usually name individuals in sexual assault cases, but in this instance, both parties have spoken publicly about their experience.

Despite the finding, Nungesser said he was harassed and ostracized by Sulkowicz and her supporters. To protest the outcome of the university investigation, Sulkowicz carried a mattress around campus in a performance piece called “Carry that Weight” that drew worldwide attention. Nungesser was never charged with a crime and denies the allegations, saying they continue to dog his efforts to pursue a career as a filmmaker.

Nungesser sued the school in 2015, alleging his right to an education free of gender-based discrimination was violated. He took aim at university President Lee Bollinger and Sulkowicz’s visual arts professor who gave her credit for the performance as part of her senior thesis.

Emma Sulkowicz's protest doubled as her senior thesis project.
Andrew Burton/Getty Images
Emma Sulkowicz's protest doubled as her senior thesis project.

The lawsuit was dismissed in 2016 on the grounds that his claims did not constitute sex-based discrimination. He refiled the lawsuit and it was dismissed in 2017, a decision he appealed. While the appeal was pending his lawyer said he began talking to Columbia about a possible resolution.

“He’s not sure if he can keep his name. He’s worried every time he gives his name out, whether it is for a job or on a date,” Nungesser’s lawyer, Andrew Miltenberg told CNN. “He is worried that no matter what he accomplishes professionally or otherwise that this is going to create a problem.”

With the confidential settlement, Miltenberg said Nungesser got what he had long sought from Columbia.

It “gives Paul a chance to go on with his life and recover from the false accusation against him,” his lawyer said in a statement. “We hope that the resolution of the case also ensures that no student will ever have to endure what Paul went through after he was exonerated.”

The school said it stands by its finding, reached after “a diligent and thorough investigation,” that he was found not responsible for any misconduct. Nungesser graduated in 2015 from Columbia in good standing and is currently enrolled in film school in Germany.

“Columbia recognizes that after the conclusion of the investigation, Paul’s remaining time at Columbia became very difficult for him and not what Columbia would want any of its students to experience,” the school said in a statement.

“Columbia will continue to review and update its policies toward ensuring that every student – accuser and accused, including those like Paul who are found not responsible – is treated respectfully and as a full member of the Columbia community. “

The controversy has become yet another footnote in the ongoing debate over university investigations, known as Title IX investigations for the federal civil rights law that forbids gender-based harassment. It’s an issue that new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has prioritized in “listening sessions” across the country, pitting due process rights of the accused against concerns for survivors’ safety and well-being while investigations are pending.

The harassment continued after the investigation concluded, Nungesser said in his lawsuit, when Sulkowicz turned “her personal vendetta” into a senior thesis. She brought the mattress to her graduation and walked across the stage with it. Meanwhile, Nungesser’s name appeared on a “rapist list” in Columbia bathrooms, the complaint said.

“President Bollinger showed no public regard for a student in Paul, who was being victimized by Emma’s campaign of false charges of criminal conduct that the University had rightly determined lacked any substance. President Bollinger thus displayed a contemptible moral cowardice in bowing down to the witch hunt against an innocent student instead of standing up for the truth and taking appropriate steps to protect Paul from gender-based harassment,” the lawsuit said.

“Sulkowicz’s harassment campaign could not possibly have been as widespread and as pervasive without Columbia University’s actions and inactions,” the lawsuit added.

Sulkowicz declined to comment on the settlement. In a 2015 email she told CNN: “It’s ridiculous that he would read it as a ‘bullying strategy,’ especially given his continued public attempts to smear my reputation, when really it’s just an artistic expression of the personal trauma I’ve experienced at Columbia.”

She continued, “if artists are not allowed to make art that reflects on our experiences, then how are we to heal?”

In response to Columbia’s statement, victims’ rights group End Rape on Campus said it stood by Sulkowicz and criticized the school.

“Broadly speaking, treating perpetrators of sexual assault as victims is not only uneducated, it is irresponsible and harmful,” said Annie Clark, executive director of End Rape on Campus.

“Columbia’s statement is not surprising given our current culture, however; its words are reminiscent of institutions and media outlets who continue to claim that perpetrators’ lives are irrevocably damaged by such allegations.”

CNN’s Kwegyirba Croffie and Polo Sandoval contributed to this report.