Professor says emails were 'gay-coded,' not sex harassment

This photo provided by Nimrod Reitman on Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018, shows Reitman, a former New York University graduate student, who has sued a prominent professor, alleging she sexually harassed and stalked him for more than three years. (Nimrod Reitman via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — A prominent New York University professor who is being sued by a former student who accuses her of sexual harassment said that her relationship with him was not sexual and that affectionate emails they exchanged were just "gay-coded" correspondence.

Professor Avita Ronell, a world-renowned professor of German and comparative literature, released a statement on Friday in response to a lawsuit filed against her this week by the former student and advisee, Nimrod Reitman.

In the lawsuit, Reitman said he was subjected to unwanted kissing and groping, and he said he received many messages that made him uncomfortable.

Ronell denied having any sexual contact with her former student and said their emails contained "exaggerated expressions of tenderness" because they are both gay, not because she was sexually harassing him.

She also said her messages were reciprocated. In her statement, she included several purported excerpts of their emails, in which she alleges Reitman referred to her as "beloved and special one," ''Baby" and "Sweet Beloved."

Ronell said their emails were usually related to their working relationship, though they often contained "literary allusions" and "poetic runs."

Reitman, who received a doctorate from NYU in 2015, said the professor created "a fictitious romantic relationship" and sabotaged his efforts to get a teaching position. He also is suing the university, alleging administrators failed to take action after he told a vice provost about the misconduct while still a student. He is seeking unspecified damages.

The university opened an investigation last summer shortly after Reitman made a formal complaint.

NYU's Title IX office concluded that Reitman was sexually harassed and suspended the professor for a year and stipulated that any future meetings with students be supervised. It cleared her of allegations that her actions amounted to sexual assault.

It said it did not believe that filing a lawsuit against it "would be warranted or just."

In the lawsuit, Reitman accuses the professor of demanding he address her in "over-the-top, effusive language, including that he constantly express his love for her, and his failure to do so would result in Ronell angrily reprimanding him and refusing to work with him."

Ronell said she uses the same type of flowery language in her emails with many others. She said that Reitman reciprocated this language to her while simultaneously telling others she was a "witch," ''evil" and a "monster." Ronell said the lawsuit is really about "the inability of Reitman to find a job," and not sexual.