EXCLUSIVE | Complainants share their stories: Female 1 details ‘miserable’ work environment

By Ian Tancun

Eric Dannenmaier, former College of Law dean, resigned June 27 following an investigation into his alleged sexual harassment of two former College of Law employees, both of which made complaints against him. Dannenmaier filed an injunction July 6 seeking to keep the details of the investigation sealed, but both the individuals who filed the complaints provided the Northern Star with copies of an April 14 memo they received from Sarah Adamski, associate director of Investigations, Affirmative Action and Equity Compliance, which contained the findings of the investigation, as well as the summaries of their two interviews with Title IX investigators. The two individuals who filed the complaints will be referred to as Female 1 and Female 2 to protect their identities, as the investigations concluded they were “more likely than not” sexually harassed by Dannenmaier through his comments and language of a sexual nature in the workplace, according to the April 14 memo. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights requires institutions to use a preponderance of the evidence standard, which is defined as “more likely than not” when investigating complaints of discrimination and harassment.

DeKALB | Concerned her boss was attempting to prevent the release of information related to the sexual harassment complaint she filed against him, a former College of Law employee is speaking out despite having hoped to put the situation behind her, as she felt only his story was being told.

The former employee is sharing her experiences working for Eric Dannenmaier, former College of Law dean, who she said created a “miserable” working environment by making repeated sexually explicit comments.

Details of the complaint filed

The Feb. 15 and March 10 interview summaries provided by Female 1 detail the comments that resulted in the complaint being filed against Dannenmaier. On Aug. 19, Dannenmaier invited Female 1 to his home for dinner, during which Female 1 said Dannenmaier offered her a new job at NIU, according to the Feb. 15 interview summary.

During this dinner, she said Dannenmaier asked graphic sexual questions, including whether she “swallows” and “whether the sexual activity [she] engaged in was good or not because [she] deserved to be treated well sexually,” according to the April 14 memo and the Feb. 15 interview summary.

These comments are ones which the memo said “illustrate Dannenmaier’s admissions and those that he was not able to categorically ‘deny,’ ” according to the April 14 memo.

These sexually suggestive comments are ones Female 1 said began shortly after she started her position in the College of Law last June.

“Mid-summer was the first time that I specifically remember really inappropriate comments,” Female 1 said. “It was when he and I went out to drinks together once after work and he made some inappropriate comments then, and I remember specifically thinking ‘ooh, this is very uncomfortable; I don’t like this.’”

The comments during that outing included Dannenmaier asking Female 1 about her sex life and whether she had experimented with other females, according to her Feb. 15 interview summary.

The inappropriate comments continued from that point until she left her job at NIU in February, Female 1 said.

An “uncomfortable” work environment

Female 1 said she regularly felt very uncomfortable by Dannenmaier’s sexually explicit comments.

On Aug. 27, Female 1 said Dannenmaier called her to respond to an email she had sent him, telling her he didn’t like “things to be in writing”, according to her Feb. 15 interview summary. It was during this phone call Female 1 said Dannenmaier told her she should not reach out to College of Law faculty members directly.

Female 1 said Dannenmaier isolated her from the other faculty and staff by telling her other staff members “did not trust you or your ability to do the job, and that he was ‘always’ defending you to faculty and staff…,” as documented in the April 14 memo.

“He would just tell us things about how they didn’t trust us or how they didn’t believe we could do the jobs we were doing because we were young and female,” Female 1 said. “It’s so ironic that he had us believing this because it’s really the very opposite.”

It was conversations she later had with those faculty members that made her realize Dannenmaier’s claims were incorrect, she said.

“About a week or so before my last day, [a current College of Law faculty member] asked me if I had been treated respectfully during my time as an employee of NIU Law,” Female 1 said. “She expressed her support for me and apologized for not being more vocal about that support. She also stated that she suspected that things were awry and wished she had spoken up.​”

Three other current College of Law faculty members also expressed their support of Female 1, she said.

The Northern Star reached out to seven current College of Law faculty members for comment, however, those requests were forwarded to NIU spokesperson Lisa Miner who said none of the employees were permitted to comment.

“NIU is currently bound by a temporary restraining order and is prohibited from producing any information in response to any FOIA or other third party request relating to any formal or informal complaints, investigation or adjudication pertaining to plaintiff Dannenmaier,” Miner said in an email.

Coming forward and filing a complaint

Female 1’s decision to file a complaint came during Christmas break. The time away allowed her to step back and reflect on the situation and realize it was an unhealthy one, she said. She said she also had the opportunity to speak to Female 2, her co-worker who filed the second complaint against Dannenmaier, about her similar experiences with him.

“[Female 2] texted me … she was put in an incredibly uncomfortable situation, and it almost seemed normal,” Female 1 said. “Hearing this horrible thing that was happening to a coworker that I respect and realizing that this has been happening consistently to me and I’ve said nothing. And just realizing that this is not okay. I can choose to end this and make sure nobody else does it.”

Female 1 said she was impressed by how quickly and thoroughly the Title IX investigators at NIU handled the investigation. However, she has concerns about how NIU handled the aftermath of the investigation. Her concerns are addressed in a July 24 Letter to the Editor.

Female 1 said the experience has taught her about challenges women in legal academia and professional settings can face.

“We’re not really taught properly how to recognize and how to respond to sexual harassment,” Female 1 said. “I think as young professionals who are eager to do well, to learn — and I don’t want to play the female card — but I think that as females, we’re sort of taught to brush things under the rug and just say ‘well he’s just a guy, he’s just joking; it’s not a big deal.”

Female 1 said she has no plans to file a sexual harassment lawsuit against Dannenmaier, but she is not ruling it out altogether. Her goal in speaking out now is to enact change.

“As a licensed attorney, I know all too well the true cost — of financial, time and emotion — of a drawn out legal dispute,” Female 1 said. “If my goal of telling the truth so that this does not happen again and of starting a vital conversation about sexual harassment and the special challenges of young female professionals is achieved without a lawsuit, I’d like to move on without one. That being said, it is not out of the realm of possibility. I am committed to making a real and systemic change, and that often requires formal legal action.”

NIU spokesperson Lisa Miner provided the following statement to the Northern Star regarding the former employees’ comments.

“NIU took immediate action when a complaint was made and conducted a thorough investigation. NIU arranged for a timely resolution demonstrating that NIU holds employees at every level accountable for their behavior.”

Multiple requests made to Eric Dannenmaier and his attorney Jennifer Murphy to comment for this story were unanswered.