MeToo martyr or 'manipulator'?
He’s the professor who championed men’s rights after spurning an infatuated assistant who then accused HIM of impropriety. But this damning investigation reveals why a judge savaged him — and threw out his £4m compensation claim
CHArISMATIC and conscientious, Dr Theodore Piepenbrock commanded the respect of colleagues and students alike. A senior teaching fellow at the London School of Economics, his achievements bestowed on him a seemingly unassailable confidence.
Happily married to a fellow academic, with a son he adored and an international reputation for entrepreneurial excellence, Theodore — known as Ted — appeared, six years ago, to have everything going for him.
Since then, however, his circumstances have changed. Towards the end of 2012, Ted grew anxious, developed depression and experienced days when he didn’t want to face the world at all. His self-esteem plummeted as his once glittering career gathered dust.
Although Ted’s ongoing depression is complex, the incident that triggered it is uncontested: his toxic relationship with an assistant half his age whose infatuation with Ted, 52 — and his own and the LSE’s attempts to deal with it — appears to have brought both him and his smitten subordinate to the brink of breakdown.
Ted had employed a former student, known only as ‘Miss D’ in a High Court judgment reported this week, as his graduate teaching assistant (GTA) in the LSE’s Department of Management.
He says it became clear she had a crush on him; she dressed provocatively, behaved suggestively and became ever more obsessed with him until one evening at a hotel suite during a work trip to the U.S. in 2012, she appeared before him in a state of undress. Ted claims he rejected her advances sensitively.
Yet when the work trip was over, Miss D lodged a complaint against Ted to the LSE, and her portrayal of his behaviour was somewhat different. She claimed that during their trip Ted hadn’t been the consummate professional he claimed.
There were conversations, she said, during which he’d commented that she had a ‘ beautiful body’, described her as ‘ damaged’ and ‘unstable’, and a liar who used ‘feminine behaviours to get control over men’. And when, during an overnight meeting in a hotel room, she burst into tears out of fear and exhaustion, she claims Ted ‘ mocked me horrifically, miming a crying baby’.
After lodging her complaint, she circulated it among others in her department. Ted — who lives in Oxford with his wife Sophie Marnette, 49, a professor of medieval French studies at Oxford University, and their 15- year- old privately educated son — grew distraught at the perceived stain on his character and was signed off work sick.
Months later, an internal investigation found the complaint against him ‘not proven’ and the LSE’s director apologised for its handling of the case. But Ted’s anger towards his former employer, and the depression he developed as a result of his ordeal, continued to fester.
So much so he sued the LSE for £4 million in compensation, claiming the school was liable for Miss D’s allegations which had caused him ‘psychiatric injury’, had breached its Harassment Policy and acted in breach of its duty of care to him.
It is an audacious sum of money, and not one the judge at London’s High Court felt Ted was entitled to. This month, the judgment from the ten-day hearing in July was handed down, revealing he’d lost his claim. MrS
Justice Nicola Davies said that although there had been a ‘series of failures’ in the LSE’s management of the complaint, the school could not have predicted he would develop ‘psychiatric injury’.
And while Ted was cleared of any impropriety, she delivered a scathing verdict on his conduct in response to his assistant’s actions, claiming his behaviour ranged from ‘ inappropriate and inept to unprofessional and wrong.’
Moreover, she said, Miss D had not acted in an ‘ oppressive or unacceptable’ manner and was in fact motivated by concern that ‘ other young women could be subject to the same treatment’.
Nonetheless, Ted — who has launched an employment tribunal claim against the LSE, and announced this week he will appeal the High Court decision — seems intent on putting himself forward as a spokesperson for men who have faced unfounded allegations of sexual harassment. ‘In the #MeToo era, when sexual harassment/abuse against women is finally beginning to be rightfully addressed, how do we balance the needs to protect both women and men?’ he asked, adding that he hopes his story ‘helps in some small way to contribute to a sensible debate, where well-intentioned people work together to solve a very important issue of our time’.
Of course, there is no denying he has suffered. Yet it seems Miss D has had her own complaint swept aside and seen her own character assassinated. She was not called to be a witness, leaving others with the task of re-assembling her actions in her absence.
Speaking to the Mail this week, one former associate of Ted and Miss D claimed that Ted was a ‘really good manipulator’ who sought to promote his own version of events.
‘I know the student,’ they said. ‘He was the teacher. He had power over her. The onus was on him to check his own behaviour.’ SO
is Ted Piepenbrock an innocent victim? Or a shrewd operator seeking to make millions from his former employer as a result of allegations made by a vulnerable woman?
Ted met Miss D when she joined his two-year Masters in Management (MiM) course in 2010, shortly after he had arrived at the LSE.
Born in the U.S. to Dutch parents, Ted was at the zenith of his career. ‘He was an engaging teacher and people liked his lectures,’ says his former associate. Miss D graduated the course with a distinction and, in the summer of 2012, asked Ted to supervise her dissertation. When she changed its topic twice, requiring more meetings, he suspected she was using her studies as an excuse to spend time with him.
Concerned at her developing crush, he told Miss D he could no longer supervise her dissertation, at which point, he says, she burst into tears. When he couldn’t find a replacement supervisor, he agreed to carry on.
Newly promoted to Director of Studies for the MiM programme, he was entitled to an assistant. Given Miss D’s unwanted attention, it appears strange he chose her, but he insisted she ‘was aware of the fact that our relationship was strictly of a professional nature’.
After her three-month appointment started in September 2012, Ted claims Miss D often wore miniskirts that revealed her underwear and crawled on her hands and knees to plug in her laptop in a needlessly provocative manner.
Much was made in court of her dress sense and suggestive actions, painting a caricature of a desperate woman constantly seeking attention. A colleague also gave evidence, suggesting that Miss D ‘ wasn’t dressing appropriately to represent the LSE’, but didn’t think it her place to raise it with her.
But the source the Mail spoke to, who knew her, says this simply wasn’t true. ‘ She didn’t come across as someone who would do that,’ they say, of the allegation she had crawled across the floor to tend to a computer lead. ‘There was nothing about her dress sense that stuck out. She was intelligent and people liked her.’
Ted, however, grew concerned enough to discuss his assistant’s suspected crush with his wife Sophie, whom he met when they were students at America’s Berkeley University and married in 1996. Their marriage appears as successful as it is long — Sophie recently
described Ted as ‘still as dashing and charming as when I first met him’ — and she agreed to invite her husband’s assistant to their home for dinner, to show how happily married he was.
A long way from home and with an unhappy childhood behind her (she later told Ted her father had sexually abused her), Miss D welcomed the company. Nonetheless, the bizarre invitation backfired. Ted claimed Miss D grew even more flirtatious and any intervention from him, he says, was met with incomprehension and tears.
It hardly seems sensible then, for him to have invited Miss D on a trip to Boston and Seattle in November 2012, where he was to speak to former LSE students and attend a summit of the International Institute for Strategic Leadership (IISL), which he founded.
As Mrs Justice Nicola Davies put it in court: ‘He was sufficiently aware of Miss D’s attention that he instigated a plan to show her that he was a happily married man. This, alone, should have alerted the claimant, as the senior colleague, to the need to observe professional boundaries with Miss D, particularly when he embarked upon the America trip.’
Yet Ted agreed to meet at her hotel suite on the morning of November 12 where, he says, she opened the door wearing a top which did not cover her ‘private parts’. Shocked, he took Miss D — who has not commented on this alleged incident — to a Boston park for three hours of intense discussions as to why she shouldn’t behave inappropriately. Whether it was necessary to remonstrate with her for so long is a matter of opinion.
A text conversation revealed in court between Miss D and a colleague suggests her fragile state of mind the following day, when she told her colleague she had ‘done something wrong’, that she had ‘messed up’.
Three days later, the two were greeted in Seattle by Ted’s friend and IISL fellow, Mike Wargel. Ted suggested the three meet to discuss the next day’s IISL summit in his hotel. The meeting, which started after midnight, turned into another drawn- out session about Miss D’s inappropriate behaviour.
Ted claims Miss D grew hysterical and threatened to ‘ruin his life and career’ before insisting security staff escort her to a taxi at around 4.30am to take her to a flight to her mother in New York.
Miss D, meanwhile, said she was frightened, that Ted repeatedly called her a liar, threatened to ruin
her reputation and that, as she called her mother and booked a flight to New York, he lingered with Mike outside her hotel door.
Two conflicting versions of events, then, yet regardless of whether she had exposed herself to Ted or not, it is easy to see how the young woman would be intimidated by an overnight altercation in a hotel room with two middle-aged men her professional seniors. The judge, meanwhile, said there was no justification for Ted’s conduct that night, and that he showed ‘an inability to recognise and respect boundaries, compounded by an absence of insight into the distress which he was causing to a young woman’. AfTEr
Ted returned to London, Miss D not only lodged a complaint, but sent an email to his faculty presenting her version of events. Told of the email and complaint, but not their contents, Ted’s paranoia, perhaps understandably, went into overdrive.
fearing he had been accused of rape, Ted claims colleagues refused to say hello and avoided him. It was, undoubtedly, a horrible situation to be in.
Yet while the judge agreed Miss D should not have discussed a confidential matter this way, the Mail’s source believes her actions were understandable: ‘The email was her trying to defend herself because she didn’t have much of a voice. She didn’t know what he was going to do and wanted to get her side out there.’ Nobody, they insist, reacted to the email: ‘I don’t know why he thinks people were ignoring him.’
That December, Ted was diagnosed with depression and signed off work sick. His medical records — shown to court — make disturbing reading. He suffered suicidal thoughts and Sophie, who liaised with the LSE on his behalf, claimed he was too ill to be interviewed about Miss D’s complaint.
Yet while on sick leave he managed to travel to India to give lectures, which, the judge said, raised ‘a real issue as to the credibility’ of Ted and called into question ‘whether he was wholly justified in refusing to take part in any communication with the LSE’.
And, says the former associate, ‘ refusing to co- operate, that makes me angry. I think he’s a master manipulator.’
In July 2013, the LSE’s director of Hr wrote to Ted and Miss D to say efforts to meet with Ted had not proved possible, that the evidence he had ‘could not corroborate or disprove the allegations’ and that ‘I therefore consider the only decision I can properly form on the complaint is that it is “not proven” — that is, I do not have evidence which proves or disproves the claim to my satisfaction’.
Despite repeated requests from the Mail, Dr Piepenbrock has not responded to the allegations against him.
A sorry situation then, in which there is no winner. Miss D, full of ‘regret’ for the episode, is not believed to have returned to Britain since. She insists she had no intention of broadcasting her problems with Ted until his ‘threats and erratic behaviour’ forced her to do so.
Ted was sacked from a position at Ashridge Business School in Hemel Hempstead in 2014, after falling out with a female boss he described as angry and abusive — an incident he attributes to the trauma he suffered at the LSE.
His behaviour, however, is not unimpeachable. ‘He was in a position of power, she looked up to him, and it got to the point where she felt unsafe,’ says his former associate, of Ted’s relationship with Miss D.
Put like that, many might wonder whether he is quite the martyr he claims to be.
Accused: Theodore Piepenbrock with his wife Sophie and son, whose identity we have protected