Law Professors

Harvard law prof claims reporter sexually harassed him, twisted facts in 'gullible man' story

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Bruce Hay, a professor at Harvard Law School, has filed a lawsuit alleging that he was sexually harassed by a New York Magazine reporter who gained his confidence, manipulated him and portrayed him as a gullible victim in the article that she wrote.

Hay’s lawsuit, filed Aug. 5 in the Southern District of New York, claims that reporter Kera Bolonik portrayed him as a “credulous, hapless victim” of two women he was involved with, report Law360 and the Volokh Conspiracy.

Hay was embroiled in an “escalating legal conflict” with the women, “facilitated by individuals who had an interest in driving them apart,” according to Hay’s suit. Although he came to think that he was a victim of the women, Hay says, he later realized that he was mistaken.

Bolonik’s July 2019 article was titled, “The Most Gullible Man in Cambridge: A Harvard law professor who teaches a class on judgment wouldn’t seem like an obvious mark, would he?”

The story made Hay, a civil procedure professor, the object of ridicule and damaged his reputation, according to the complaint.

Hay says he was a source, a fact-checker and a legal consultant for the article during many months of reporting in which Bolonik “flouted the interpersonal boundaries normally observed by professional journalists.”

Hay’s suit says he qualifies as a consultant or a service provider to the magazine, giving him protections from sexual harassment under the New York Human Rights Law. He also alleges breach of an agreement to work with Bolonik on an article that “would meet the high standards of professional investigative journalism long associated” with New York Magazine.

The suit also alleges defamation and violation of the duty of good faith and fair dealing.

Hay claims that Bolonik “frequently crossed the line into sexual harassment” by contacting him almost daily and “insinuating herself into his personal life and trying to draw him into hers. She shared inappropriate details about her sexual relationship with her domestic partner, her romantic history and her sex life and pressed him to provide equivalent information about himself.”

Bolonik deflected Hay’s discomfort by reassuring him that she was “exclusively lesbian,” while telling him that she cared about him, the lawsuit says.

“Bolonik proceeded to use plaintiff’s trust and confidence to manipulate and exploit him and also to prevent him from seeing how badly he was being used by her and New York Media,” the suit says.

Hay contends that Bolonik’s article misrepresented the two women, Maria-Pia Shuman, a cisgender white woman, and her wife, Mischa Shuman, a transgender woman of color, “as scheming, deviant femmes fatales preying on a series of men,” including Hay.

Had the story honored the agreement with Hay, the suit says, it would have revealed that the women “are the victims of a predatory campaign to demonize them for their gender nonconformity.” The story would have revealed that a “criminal” label affixed to the women was “the product of a prejudice-driven effort to weaponize law enforcement,” according to the suit.

The article allegedly mischaracterized a July 2017 incident in which the two women had refused to leave the home that Hay shared with his ex-wife. Hay’s ex-wife had responded with a suit to eject the two women.

“Contrary to the articles’ defamatory assertions,” the suit says, the women “did not invade or steal plaintiff’s house, and they also did not move into it in order to extort him.”

More litigation followed, fueled in part by Hay’s mistaken belief that he was among a trail of victims falsely accused of fathering one of the women’s children. The women also sued Hay, and one of them, a Harvard doctoral student, filed a Title IX harassment complaint against him.

“Had they lived up to their agreement with plaintiff and the trust he placed in them, Bolonik and her editors would have greeted plaintiff’s account of the Shumans and their ‘trail of victims’ with a healthy dose of skepticism, despite the plaintiff’s sincere belief in the account,” the suit says.

“The resulting coverage would have revealed that plaintiff was tragically mistaken about the Shumans.”

Hay labels the article “a Fatal Attraction-inspired piece of pulp fiction masquerading as journalism.”

New York Magazine gave this statement to Law360: “New York Magazine was saddened to see the complaint filed by Bruce Hay. It should be clear to anyone who read the articles, or Mr. Hay’s complaint, that he was a willing source for the story and provided the reporter Kera Bolonik with supporting documents throughout the reporting process. We stand by the article and Kera, who has been writing and editing reported features and essays about LGBTQ and intersectional feminist issues for over 25 years.”

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