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Murder of Student Brings Skeletons Out Of Yale Closet

schless 2Joseph Schlessinger, Chair of the Pharmacology Department at Yale University School of Medicine is one of the few people at Yale to have gone  on record when student Annie Le was reported missing. 

The Pharmacology Department “knows nothing” about the disappearance, Schlessinger told the Yale Daily News last Friday.

Schlessinger said he first learned that Le was missing when he received an email from her faculty advisor Anton Bennett, an assistant professor in the pharmacology department.  Schlessinger says he received that email at about noon on September 8, the day Le disappeared.  The Yale Daily News reports that, according to Schlessinger, Bennett advised him that Le had not shown up for work and nobody knew where she was.  Professor Bennett has not commented publicly on the email, but he did describe to the Yale Daily News the growing apprehension as the day wore on, “There was certainly immediate concern about her whereabouts,” Bennett said. “And they grew over the course of the day,” especially after she missed a pathology class for which she is a teaching assistant.


Now we know that Annie Le was killed in a lab on the Yale campus sometime after 10am.  She is seen entering the building at about that time, recorded by a security camera.

Schlessinger pointed out to the Yale Daily News that his student was concerned about crime in and around Yale “She did not feel safe in New Haven,” Schlessinger said, adding that her 4’ 11” stature would have made her an easy target.

She was always talking about the wedding,” said Schlessinger, “We are just concerned; we are like her parents.”

But the real parents of pharmacology students at Yale may not want Schlessinger taking on the role of surrogate parent, especially if they know about a sexual harassment suit filed against Schlessinger and Yale University which was quietly settled out of court.  Those parents may also want to know that a U.S. District Court Judge ruled Schlessinger improperly obtained a patent for a well-known cancer drug. Or perhaps they would want to know why someone registered the domain name josephschlessinger.com for the sole purpose of promulgating misdeeds attributed to Schlessinger, and how Schlessinger was able wrest control of that domain from its owner in what Internet industry experts say was an unprecedented arbitration case in his favor.

Mary Beth Garceau  began working as a secretary at the Yale School of Medicine back in 2001.  Her supervisor was Joseph Schlessinger.  Garceau claims in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court that Schlessinger made repeated lewd observations and suggestions to her, from telling jokes about penis size to showing her hard-core pornography.  She says the harassment started on day one and didn’t end until she quit nearly three years later.  The complaint goes on to say that Yale University was culpable in that university officials did not address her concerns when they were brought to their attention.

From the complaint:

[He] commented on the size of her breasts and style of her underwear…On her first day of work, she says, Schlessinger told a joke to a colleague involving penis size and watched for her response…[H]e once showed her pornography on his office computer and, another time, pulled a picture from his desk showing a naked woman without a head and told her it was his wife.

In April to May 2002, plaintiff had the responsibility to schedule a meeting between Dr. Schlessinger and the Director of the Cancer Center. Dr. Schlessinger became angry because of a decision a committee made to reject his preferred candidate for that position. When plaintiff discussed with the scheduling of a meeting, he answered, “F*** them, I am not meeting with them”. Surprised, the plaintiff responded in question form, “F*** them?”.  Dr. Schlessinger responded, “I bet it would be fun to f**** you.”  At this point, plaintiff became fearful and left the room.

Garceau also alleged that Schlessinger bragged about the number of women he had slept with, claiming the number came to 46, and commented on the size of her breasts and style of her underwear   In another incident, Garceau claims Schlessinger asked her to pick him up at home and take him to work so he wouldn’t have to leave his car in New Haven during a business trip. She says he greeted her at the door in an open shirt with “no clothes underneath” and asked her to come to his bedroom upstairs and help him pack. She said she felt nervous and afraid but went upstairs because he was her supervisor.

Garceau alleges that university officials seemed more interested in protecting Schlessinger’s reputation than investigating her complaints.

The terms of the settlement in the case were never disclosed, but Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said the university believes there was no violation of law. Yale University defines sexual harassment as unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature on campus or off. Violations are punishable by “serious disciplinary action.”

Another case involving Schlessinger did go to trial.

Imclone is the biotech company best known for a stock collapse that helped land founder Sam Waksal and his Martha Stewart in prison.  The company was also the center of a court case that pitted three distinguished scientists from Israel’s Weizmann Institute against their ex-colleague Joseph Schlessinger in a patent dispute involving the cancer drug Erbitux.  The three scientists essentially accused Schlessinger of stealing the patent.  

In September 2006 U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald ruled against Schlessinger and in favor of the three scientists who were declared the true inventors of Erbitux.  While Schlessinger testified at trial that he developed the “only unique material” during experimentation, the judge disagreed, saying “Schlessinger in no way directed the research of the Weizmann scientists and had absolutely no interaction with them during the course of their experimentation.  The judge went on to say that the Weizmann scientists were not included as inventors on the patent even though they conducted all of the experiments relating to mixing the antibody and chemotherapy drugs.

Professor Michael Sela, one of the plaintiffs and an ex-colleague of Schlessinger said after the verdict,  “I don’t mind if I don’t take a patent, unless it’s stolen from me. Then I have to react. At the beginning, when I first saw it, I was in a state of shock. I mean, money is not important, but my name and my science, my honor demanded I should be replaced.”

Joseph Schlessinger is no stranger to legal battles and seems to be a person always ready to argue his case.  That was what happened when a man by the name of Harold O’Connor, believed to be pseudonym, decided to register the domain name josephschlessinger.com.  His sole purpose for the website was to post information about the sexual harassment suit and the Imclone case. This time Schlessinger won, much to the dismay of experts who follow domain name dispute cases.  

Schlessinger brought his case before the World Intellectual Property Organization, the body that arbitrates disputes involving the Uniform Domain Name Resolution Policy.  Schlessinger argued through his lawyers that the domain name should be transferred to him claiming common law rights to his name as a trademark.  Schlessinger has never registered his name as a trademark and critics of the decision say that his name is not recognizable to the general public, the standard used to claim common law trademark rights. Andrew Alleman, who writes about the domain name industry, was befuddled by the decision, “I’m perplexed at how panelists decide that a person has achieved significant enough popularity to have trademark rights to their name. The random selection of a panelist seems to be more important than how well known the person actually is.”

The decision by WIPO was also criticized as a violation of free speech and industry insiders say they are surprised that Schlessinger prevailed.

Much has been said about Yale’s handling of the Le disappearance and the subsequent investigation.  Yale has come under criticism in the past for protecting its good name over the rights and needs of its students.  The murder of Annie Le, a story that has gripped the nation, in all its tragic reality, will undoubtedly shine a spotlight on Yale, its practices and its culture. 

This case will not be settled quietly.


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