United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
J. CASPER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Erin Shyr and Maria Currie have filed this lawsuit against
Defendants Trustees of Boston University (the
“University”) and Eric Ruske
“Defendants”) alleging a violation of Title IX,
20 U.S.C. § 1681, and various Massachusetts state law
claims. D. 1-2. Defendants have moved to dismiss five of the
ten counts asserted by Plaintiffs. D. 6. For the reasons
stated below, the Court DENIES the motion.
Standard of Review
motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the
Court “must assume the truth of all well-plead[ed]
facts and give plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable
inferences therefrom.” Ruiz v. Bally Total Fitness
Holding Corp., 496 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2007) (citing
Rogan v. Menino, 175 F.3d 75, 77 (1st Cir. 1999)).
Reading the complaint “as a whole, ” the Court
must conduct a two-step, context-specific inquiry.
García-Catalán v. United States, 734
F.3d 100, 103 (1st Cir. 2013). First, the Court must perform
a close reading of the claim to distinguish the factual
allegations from the conclusory legal allegations contained
therein. Id. The Court must accept factual
allegations as true, while conclusory legal conclusions are
not entitled credit. Id. Second, the Court must
determine whether the factual allegations present a
“reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for
the misconduct alleged.” Haley v. City of
Boston, 657 F.3d 39, 46 (1st Cir. 2011). “[T]he
plaintiff need not demonstrate she is likely to
prevail” at this stage, only that the claims are
facially plausible. García-Catalán,
734 F.3d at 102-03.
following allegations are from the complaint, D. 1-2, and the
Court accepts them as true for the purposes of considering
this motion. These allegations primarily concern Ruske, a
professional horn soloist, who has been a professor at Boston
University's College of Fine Arts since 1990.
Id. ¶¶ 21, 25. Over the course of his
career, Ruske has gathered a fair number of accolades.
Id. at 21-24. In tandem with all of these
achievements, however, Shyr and Currie allege that Ruske has
also amassed a reputation for making sexually charged and
offensive statements to his students, particularly toward
women. Id. ¶ 35.
Ruske's Relationship with Currie
Currie (“Currie”) enrolled at the
University's College of Fine Arts in September 2012 to
study trumpet performance. Id. ¶ 32. As a
sophomore, nineteen-year-old Currie joined a chamber ensemble
(the “quintet”) as part of her coursework.
Id. ¶ 33. Ruske was the faculty member in the
College of Fine Arts assigned to oversee and coach the
quintet. Id. ¶¶ 34, 38. Currie alleges
that her interactions with Ruske became increasingly hostile,
with Ruske objectifying her and making unseemly sexual
comments to her on numerous occasions. For example, on
November 16, 2013, Currie arrived for rehearsal wearing a
knee-length pencil skirt and high heels. Id. ¶
41. Upon seeing her, Ruske allegedly raised his eyebrows,
looked Currie up and down, and exclaimed “Ooh,
heels!” Id. ¶¶ 41-42.
December 16, 2013, Currie was required to play for a panel of
three brass faculty members as part of an evaluation for
coursework that was separate from her chamber ensemble.
Id. ¶ 44. Ruske was one of the faculty member
assigned to be on this panel. Id. Currie did not
pass the evaluation. Id. ¶ 45. In response,
Currie sought out Ruske and requested a meeting to get advice
and feedback on her failed performance. Id. ¶
46. Ruske agreed to meet with Currie and provided Currie with
his personal cell phone number to arrange the meeting.
Id. ¶ 47. Later that same day, Ruske e-mailed
Currie stating, “I will certainly miss hearing and
working with you in the quintet next semester (and of course
seeing the concert heels).” Id. ¶ 49.
Currie did not reply to this e-mail. Id. ¶ 50.
The following day, on December 17, 2013, Ruske and Currie met
in Ruske's office to discuss Currie's evaluation.
Id. ¶ 51. During this meeting, Ruske spoke of
Currie's performance by comparing it to the two of them
having sex. Id. ¶ 54. Specifically, Ruske told
Currie that listening to her performance made him feel like
he and Currie were in the midst of sexual intercourse, but
that Currie, while beautiful, simply lay there and did
nothing to enhance the sexual experience. Id. Currie
ended the meeting and left Ruske's office. Id.
¶ 55. Several minutes after this meeting, Ruske texted
Currie, “Fabulous chatting . . . and great
blouse!” Id. ¶ 57. Currie had not yet
received her grade in Ruske's ensemble course and
allegedly felt obligated to respond to this text message
stating, “[h]ave a great break!” Id.
¶¶ 56, 58, 59. Less than three hours later, Ruske
again texted Currie stating, “[w]ithout being too
grossly inappropriate. [sic] I hope Santa brings you nice big
high heels.” Id. ¶ 60. Currie again
responded thanking him. Id. ¶ 61. Ruske sent
back a text saying, “It's such a shame that I
won't ever get to see them/you, ” Id.
¶ 62, to which Currie replied, “I'll be having
a recital sometime next semester!” Id. ¶
64. In response, Ruske sent Currie a text that read,
“And the last thing you need is some creepy old guy in
the front row, ” id. ¶ 65, which was
followed by another text stating, “You can always send
pix . . .” id. ¶ 66. Currie alleges
asking for “pix” is a generally accepted practice
used by individuals soliciting nude pictures of women.
Id. ¶ 68. Currie further alleges that because
of the power dynamic that existed between Ruske and Currie,
especially given Ruske's control over Currie's grade
and Ruske's reputation as an excellent musician, Currie
responded, “Ha, no promises[.]” Id.
¶¶ 69-70. Ruske wrote back, “Of course not .
. . a girl can dream, though.” Id. ¶ 71.
At this point, Currie stopped responding to Ruske.
Id. ¶ 72.
December 24, 2013, Ruske sent Currie a text that read,
“I probably owe you an apology . . . . I'm really
sorry if I made you uncomfortable. Have a fabulous holiday
and a happy New Year!!” Id. ¶ 74. Currie
did not respond. Id. ¶ 75. In January 2014,
Currie withdrew as a student at the University's College
of Fine Arts and enrolled at a neighboring university.
Id. ¶ 77. Nonetheless, Currie still practiced
at the College of Fine Art's facilities. Id.
¶ 78. That month, Currie ran into Ruske while practicing
at the College of Fine Arts. Id. ¶ 79. Currie
felt uncomfortable, avoided eye contact with Ruske, and left
the area. Id. ¶ 80. Subsequently, on January
30, 2014, Currie met with Sarah Bellott
(“Bellott”), the College of Fine Art's
student services coordinator, and showed her the numerous
text messages she had received from Ruske. Id.
¶ 82. Bellott responded by telling Currie that she
should have specifically asked Ruske to stop sending the text
messages. Id. ¶ 83.
Ruske's Relationship with Shyr
spring of 2014, Erin Shyr (“Shyr”), a freshman in
the University's College of Fine Arts, enrolled in a
woodwind chamber group coached by Ruske. Id. ¶
86. Shyr alleges that Ruske maintained inappropriate
interactions with her and directed sexually suggestive
comments to her. For example, on March 11, 2014, Ruske
emailed Shyr stating that he hoped she was having a good
spring break. Id. ¶ 96. Shyr responded that her
break was going well and that she wished Ruske a happy spring
break as well. Id. ¶ 97. Ruske replied to Shyr,
“Hooooray!!! Maybe you'll share a cute pic with me
. . . .” Id. ¶ 98. Like Currie, Shyr
interpreted Ruske's request for a “pic” as
one seeking nude photographs. Id. ¶ 99. Because
Shyr was allegedly worried about how Ruske would respond if
she failed to send back a picture, Shyr pretended she did not
understand the sexually suggestive text. Id.
¶¶ 101-02. Instead, she wrote back, “I
haven't taken many pictures in NYC, but here is a picture
of my sister and I after her concert, and the other is a
picture of a stray cat we fed leftovers to!”
Id. Ruske responded, “Forgive me for being a
bit prejudiced, but although your sister and the kitty . . .
are cute, you are amazing and do have something truly unique.
Please don't be offended by [sic] honesty . . . as I
think you already know, I am rather blunt. Thanks for sharing
. . . I like that.” Id. ¶ 103. Shyr's
response to this email stated, “Thank you sir,
that's very kind of you. I hope you have a good
evening.” Id. ¶ 104. Shyr further alleges
that around this time Ruske began to hug her and give her
kisses on the cheek when he would run into her. Id.
¶¶ 108-09. When hugging her he often also grazed
his hand across her lower back. Id. ¶ 110.
March 20, 2014, Ruske sent Shyr an e-mail after rehearsal
stating, “You are so damn bright and also wicked
adorable. Tough to be insistent when you're the lowest
rung on the ladder (age-wise), but it's great training
for you.” Id. ¶ 113. Shyr replied,
“Thank you, sir. I will continue to work hard in
chamber class.” Id. ¶ 114. Ruske
immediately emailed Shyr back saying “I prefer,
“[T]hanks [E]ric, for the inappropriate
comments.” Id. ¶ 115.
types of email exchanges between Ruske and Shyr continued
and, each time, they caused Shyr fear and anxiety. See
id. ¶¶ 117-119. Shyr discussed the e-mails
with her mentor, a professional musician living in Georgia,
who informed her that Ruske had a national reputation for
harassing young women. Id. ¶ 121. The mentor
advised Shyr to stay away from Ruske. Id. ¶
122. This, however, was quite ...