Ohio State professor Loren E. Babcock has conducted geologic research in Antarctica, China and various other countries.
Supervisors have ranked Babcock in the “top quartile” of the geological sciences faculty. He has authored dozens of scholarly articles and books, including an acclaimed textbook.
Babcock’s work “reflects your national and international prominence in the field,” department chair Frank Schwartz wrote in September 2005.
But on Jan. 3, 2008, the tectonic plates shifted, and Babcock’s career began to crumble. During an argument in his office, former research assistant Lara Ford threatened to tell Babcock’s boss about their on-again-off-again romantic relationship and said, “We’ll see who gets their ass handed to them.”
Ford was in his class in 2004. Babcock gave her a gift — a trilobite, a fossil familiar to those in their shared field. In the next few years, the relationship evolved. It eventually ended with competing sexual harassment complaints with OSU’s Human Resources office, and finally a lawsuit.
In January, Babcock sued OSU, contending that the university mishandled an investigation into his complaints and leaked defamatory information about him that ruined his career.
In February court filings, the university contended that some of what Babcock alleges is false and that the university simply can’t be held responsible for other claims. OSU told the judge the case should be dismissed.
In 2004, Ford became a research assistant for Babcock on a project at the Byrd Polar Research Center. During that time, they began to share details about their personal lives.
In September 2004, Ford’s job ended, and their relationship became social. For example, although he was married at the time, they traveled together to Cincinnati for a Christmas party.
In January 2005, they attended a conference in New Orleans, where Babcock was a presenter. The evening before the conference started, they had dinner, drinks and went to jazz clubs.
Afterward, according to statements both gave to university investigators in 2008, Ford wanted Babcock to see to it that she return safely to her hotel room.
In her statement, Ford said they had consensual sex.
“We had sex that night, and I stayed in his room the rest of the weekend.”
In his statement, Babcock said he wasn’t sure they had sex.
“I returned to my room alone, washed my face, and took an Ambien to settle my nerves after the unnerving experience in [Ford’s] room,” he said.
Babcock said Ford then came to his room, and he told her to leave.
Then, because of jet lag from his recent London trip and the effect of the Ambien, “I started to feel dizzy, and that’s the last thing I remember. I had blacked out,” he said. “I woke up in the early morning [Monday, January 24, 2005] with my clothes on.”
Babcock said that in the morning, Ford appeared at his room and claimed they had sex the night before.
“If that is true, and I’m not sure it is, I have no memory of it,” Babcock said in his statement. “Certainly I was in no condition to have given consent.”
Babcock said he sensed on the flight home that Ford had forced herself on him and began harassing him afterward. She demanded a sexual relationship and threatened to derail his career.
From that point, the stories began to diverge, and the relationship became more and more unstable until the he-said, she-said verbal exchange encrusted the truth like sediment on a fossil.
He said, I drove her to her car and pecked her cheek.
She said, he kissed me on the lips and cried about his family problems.
He said, I never asked her for sex, she’s lying.
She said, he was often late for class because he wanted sex beforehand.
He said, the red robe from China was a common gift.
She said, it was a sexy negligee in red, his favorite color.
He said, not true — blue is my favorite color.
And on and on.
About the events in New Orleans, Ford said she was devastated at losing her virginity and for the damage she had done to Babcock’s family.
“I was so psychologically disturbed by what I had done to his wife and his child that I told him we shouldn’t see each other again,” she said in her statement.
Babcock said otherwise. “She had been chasing me mercilessly for months, never taking ‘no’ for an answer,” he said.
In another he-said, she-said volley, Babcock and Ford gave wildly different accounts of the same conversation.
Prior to visiting her family, Babcock heard Ford say, “Don’t be surprised if I don’t kill you.”
Her version is that she said in a humorous way, “My family might kill you,” because they didn’t approve of the relationship.
According to Babcock’s statement, in July 2007, Ford went to his office in Mendenhall Lab and physically assaulted him, then said, “I’ll go to Schwartz.”
Babcock countered, “I’ll file a sexual harassment complaint with OSU.”
Despite the troubled relationship, they saw each other socially many times. Babcock gave Ford gifts from his travel overseas, including a bottle of Chardonnay from Australia, six wine glasses to go with it, a Diana Krall CD and the infamous piece of red clothing.
Babcock’s divorce, angry e-mails, phone messages and assorted events disputed by both parties further eroded the relationship.
After the 2008 confrontation in his office, Babcock formally complained to the Office of Human Resources on Jan. 17. In his statement, Babcock mentioned Ford’s depressed state and erratic behavior.
“I’ve never seen a human being so out of control,” he said.
A second Human Resource meeting occurred on March 11. Human Resources advised Babcock to file a complaint with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, a standard procedure in such cases. That complaint, filed July 1, was dismissed for lack of evidence.
Babcock’s attorney, John Sherrod, wrote in an e-mail, “The OCRC dismissed it bc the evidence available at the time was heavily slanted toward Oh. State.”
In November 2009, Babcock sent an e-mail to President E. Gordon Gee, saying that he was prepared to sue the university, but “I would much rather see the matter disappear.”
Babcock told Gee he wanted an apology, compensation for his expenses and lost income, inaccurate information removed from his personnel file and “reasonable assurance that the university will never persecute an innocent person again.”
Gee never responded.
In an interview with The Lantern, Babcock said that, following consistently high approval ratings, his performance reviews took a nosedive, colleagues shunned him and the department stopped using his textbooks. All this hurt him financially.
Sherrod said in an e-mail that OSU shared Babcock’s statement with Ford before she gave hers, giving her an advantage.
“Ford’s allegation was based in part on the statements made in [Babcock’s] deposition,” Sherrod said. “This implies that a member of the university’s investigative committee furnished Ford with the plaintiff’s allegation, and then allowed Ford to craft her statement based on information in that initial statement.”
Sherrod also contends that OSU misplaced or destroyed documents and ignored his client’s complaint. He stressed that OSU never concluded that Babcock had done anything wrong.
Babcock said the way OSU handled the case has made him “an outcast,” and that he has suffered “a tangible job detriment.” He claims someone in Human Resources leaked false accounts that he “engaged in sexual acts with Ford on the Ohio State campus, and in public places.”
Jim Lynch, OSU director of Media Relations, wrote in an e-mail that the university doesn’t discuss ongoing litigation.
“As you can see from the 100-plus pages provided to The Lantern on this subject, the university has taken extensive steps to investigate this matter,” Lynch said.
In a follow-up phone interview, Lynch said, “The detailed Human Resources investigation provided to you should provide more than enough information on what the university analyzed, and what we were able to determine.”
Sherrod wrote in an e-mail that “the case is essentially just getting started.”
Despite repeated efforts to contact Ford and some of her family members, she could not be reached for comment.