A former Stanford University student has filed a federal lawsuit claiming a Silicon Valley executive sexually assaulted her during their one-year relationship, but the executive in a countersuit has denied the allegations and alleged the lawsuit was motivated by a desire to defame him and ruin his reputation.
The civil suits by Virginia resident Elise Clougherty, who filed hers on Jan. 27 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, and Joseph Lonsdale, who filed in federal court in Oakland last Friday, depict starkly contrasting views of a love affair that took them to New York, London and Asia from 2012 to 2013.
Clougherty, who is seeking general and punitive damages and attorneys fees from Lonsdale and his company Formation 8 in excess of $75,000, claims he sexually assaulted and manipulated her, causing her to suffer pain, anxiety, depression, embarrassment, ridicule and post-traumatic distress disorder.
Lonsdale is also asking for general and punitive damages and attorneys’ fees, charging his ex-girlfriend with “a vicious and vengeful campaign…to destroy his reputation with false and outrageous accusations” and intentionally trying to defame him among his friends, business colleagues and with Stanford.
The 32-year-old Lonsdale, a 2003 Stanford graduate, co-founded Palantir Technologies, a Palo Alto computer software firm that contracted with U.S. government intelligence agencies, and co-founded Formation 8, a venture capital firm based in San Francisco, in 2011.
Clougherty, 24, who graduated from Stanford in 2013, said in her lawsuit that she and Lonsdale first met briefly in 2011 at a bar in New York while she was in her second year at Stanford, after she requested to meet him to talk about technology entrepreneurship.
The two maintained contact by email and met each other again in a bar in Palo Alto in 2011, but she claimed that in February 2012 Lonsdale used his “leverage” to become her mentee in a class at Stanford, attempted to sexually assault her at his home in Los Altos and “repeatedly forced (her) to have sexual contact without her consent.”
In March 2012, when Lonsdale learned she planned to vacation in Spain with her family, Clougherty said he asked her to meet him for several days in London and Rome and she agreed after he told her they would stay in separate rooms.
But when she arrived in London, she said he made her stay in his room, where they had sex without her consent and throughout the trip to both cities he “deprived her of both food and sleep by scheduling late evening and early morning activities, delaying meals, not ordering her enough food and other such tactics,” she claimed.
During their last night in Rome, according to Clougherty, Lonsdale “forcefully raped” her and she ended up locking herself in the bathroom and “cried for hours.”
Clougherty claimed that Lonsdale “raped her hundreds of times over the past year” they were together that he had used “many forms of psychological manipulation and control on her, including but not limited to ‘positive intermittent reinforcement,’ ‘gaslighting,’ isolation, sleep deprivation, food deprivation, anger, embarrassment, and guilt.”
In 2013, with her mother, Clougherty said she filed a complaint with Stanford accusing Lonsdale of sexual harassment and misconduct under Title IX and after investigating, the university sided with her and banned Lonsdale from the campus for 10 years.
Her suit charges him with sexual battery, sexual assault, domestic violence, gender violence, sexual harassment and infliction of emotional distress.
She also includes Lonsdale’s company Formation 8 as a defendant, charging it with “negligent retention and supervision” for permitting Lonsdale to supervise her as an intern there while he maintained an “inappropriate sexual relationship” with her.
In his countersuit, Lonsdale uses as exhibits dozens of emails and texts that Clougherty sent while they were together to show that she cherished their relationship, enjoyed and even initiated their intimate contact, “took multiple vacations together, got to know each others’ families” and “developed a deep affection for one another.”
He denied that he forced himself on her in his home in Los Altos, saying they had their first kiss there and Clougherty that night sent him an email stating “I love getting to know you.”
They had their first sexual encounter in Rome in March 2012, he said, and afterwards she sent him messages saying “the love I feel for you is deep” and describing their time in Rome as the “day we shared such a beautiful moment together! If you know what I mean…”
Their relationship started to wane, he said, when the two took a trip to Asia in August 2012, during which he had to go to business appointments and Clougherty “lashed out at him verbally,” leading Lonsdale to question her stability and their compatibility.
After the Asia trip, Lonsdale wrote her to say that her “binary swinging between things is hurtful and it’s very immature” and that while he cared about her and thought she was “amazing,” he felt under siege and unable to know how to deal with it.
Clougherty responded with a 10-page, emailed letter, describing how in late 2011 after suffering from an eating disorder she had been involuntarily committed by her parents to a mental hospital where she said her “perception was warped” and she “started seeing myriads of color on white tile floors” and at times became “physically incapable of speaking the truth.”
Lonsdale stated in the suit that Stanford did not inform him of Clougherty’s allegations in her Title IX complaint, failed to review her emails to him and that he is in the process of appealing the university’s decision against him using the emails as evidence.
He said that in February 2014, Clougherty told a potential investor of one of his business ventures that Lonsdale had sexually assaulted her, prompting the investor to withdraw, and told an official of a non-profit group that there was an “ongoing scandal” about him, leading the official to ask Lonsdale not to attend a dinner with college students.
In his suit, along with claims for damages, Lonsdale has asked the judge to issue an order prohibiting Clougherty from making statements that he committed sexual misconduct against her.
Both plaintiffs have requested jury trials.