Three years after Antonia Demas Ph.D. ’95 filed a complaint in Tompkins County Court against Cornell and one of its professors, lawyers for Demas submitted an application for reargument.
Potentially, this application could allow them to claim that Cornell is liable for the professor’s actions, and that the professor misused his position as an advisor to Demas, claims which were dismissed in February.
The original lawsuit named Cornell and Prof. David Levitsky, S. H. Weiss Presidential Fellow and professor in nutritional sciences and psychology as the defendants. Demas contends that Levitsky took credit for her research and that Cornell did not intervene to protect her.
Last February, the State of New York Supreme Court dismissed 11 of the 14 complaints originally filed by Demas. The three remaining claims — not including those that the plaintiffs want to reargue — are defamation of character against Cornell, as well as fraud and breach of contract against Levitsky.
“There was no finding against Cornell,” said Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations. “All of the charges against Cornell, with the exception of one, have been dismissed by the Appellate division and one remains for further consideration.”
Damages from the original claim could have totaled $50 million, but after the February decision, this amount has decreased. Demas’ lawyers declined to provide monetary estimates on damages resulting from this reduced number of claims.
The most recent step in the lawsuit occurred on April 15 when Demas’ lawyers submitted an application for reargument.
“We are saying that Cornell is responsible for Levitsky’s actions because he was acting within his scope of employment” as a professor, said Peter Salton ’78, one of Demas’ attorneys.
An attorney representing Cornell, Thomas D’Antonio, declined to comment on the specifics of the case, including whether Cornell’s defense involves distancing the University from Levitsky, who is represented by his own lawyer.
Levitsky was a senior collaborator in Demas’ Ph.D. dissertation research, joining the dissertation committee after Demas passed her A exam. Demas, meanwhile, continued with her research relating education to children’s nutrition habits.
“My research question was, ‘Would kids who had the experience [of receiving my curriculum on food] eat more [nutritious foods] than the kids who did not?'” Demas said. “I volunteered with kids for 25 years, and I wanted to see if my long-term observations were valid,” she said. She volunteered in the elementary school where her two children, now grown-up, had attended.
In a Jan. 31, 2001 letter to The Sun, Prof. Emeritus Colin Campbell, the J.G. Schurman Professor of Nutritional Sciences claimed that Demas already formulated her research idea before enrolling in Cornell, and that Levitsky had asked to join the dissertation committee late in her program.
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, Levitsky says he never asked to join her committee. On the advice of his attorney, he declined to comment to The Sun.
Demas won two national recognition for her project — from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and from the Society for Nutrition Education.
Though these organizations viewed her work as the most creative in the country, children were never able to fully benefit from the project due to Levitsky’s actions, according to Demas. Money from the lawsuit could be used to support the non-profit organization that Demas currently runs, which is one reason why she filed the lawsuit, she said.
Archived article by Peter Lin