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Details Emerge in Joe Lonsdale Sexual Assault Lawsuit

The Palantir co-founder trades allegations with his ex-girlfriend.

Joe Lonsdale

Joe Lonsdale 


Very few details are held in common between the charges filed by Elise Clougherty against Joe Lonsdale, the co-founder of Palantir, and a public letter that Lonsdale has written in his own defense.

In her suit, first reported by Techcrunch, Clougherty, who has not requested anonymity in the case, alleges sexual battery and domestic violence, among other charges stemming from a year-long romantic relationship that began in February 2012 when Cloughtery was an undergraduate at Stanford and Lonsdale an alumnus mentor and continued while she interned at his current company, VC firm Formation 8. At the time of their relationship, Cloughtery was 21 and Lonsdale 29. An investigation at Stanford of related charges resulted in a ban of Lonsdale’s physical presence on the campus for at least ten years, an investigation that Lonsdale’s criticizes as unfair and bending to “political” pressure surround sexual violence issues on campus.

For his part, Lonsdale has denied the claims, saying that the lawsuit represents “a vengeful, personal attack by a deranged ex-girlfriend” and has offered emails and other evidence that he says absolve him.

Read the full civil suit against Lonsdale here. Read Lonsdale’s open letter here.

Cloughtery’s suit alleges that an ongoing pattern of horrific assaults. “Mr. Lonsdale took advantage of his position of power and Ms. Clougherty’s youth and trusting personality to draw her into a highly deviant, abusive, and controlling relationship during which he perpetrated hundreds of non-consensual, and often violent, sexual acts upon her.”

According to the suit, Lonsdale and Cloughtery—which it describes as a committed Catholic—entered quickly into a romantic relationship, meeting at multiple Palo Alto bars where Lonsdale “offered her alcohol—which she refused” and “talked about inappropriate sexual topics, including how he had had uncontrollable sexual urges when he was younger.” It goes on to describe their first sexual encounter in detail: “Ms. Clougherty believed that Mr. Lonsdale was picking her up from campus to go to dinner in Palo Alto to discuss her team’s project. Instead, Mr. Lonsdale drove her back to his home in Los Altos Hills. Shortly after arriving at his house, he started to kiss her aggressively and to try to take off her pants. Despite Ms. Clougherty trying to avoid him and pushing his hands away from her crotch at least a half dozen times, Mr. Lonsdale persisted. Mr.Lonsdale then pulled Ms. Clougherty into a bedroom where he took off her clothes and his pants, and began to penetrate her with his flaccid penis. During this episode, Mr. Lonsdale acted as though he were not doing anything wrong.”

According to the suit, Lonsdale told Cloughtery “that it was women’s nature to enjoy being raped, especially if they are raped by a man with greater means” and continued to force sexual contact throughout the year, including on several vacations that they took together, including to London and Rome.

The suit goes on the detail what—if true—would be troubling descriptions of Lonsdale’s behavior. It claims that “during intercourse, he would regularly shake Ms. Clougherty violently and would not stop, despite her protests, until she promised she would always ‘listen to her master.’ In addition to shaking her violently during sexual assaults, he also began strangling her, slapping her, scratching her, yanking her by the hair so hard that he would lift her torso off the bed, and slamming her body against the walls and bed boards. He would growl and yell derogatory comments at her.”

The suit alleges two counts of sexual battery, one count of domestic violence, one count of gender violence, one count of sexual harassment, one count of intentional infliction of emotional distress, one count of negligent infliction of emotional distress, and one count of negligent retention and supervision, each of which carries $75,000 in damages.

For his part, Lonsdale has mounted a vigorous defense of himself, releasing a detailed open letter that he hopes will refute the charges. He describes Clougherty as engaging in “a malicious campaign of lies” and says that “these attacks were and are 100 percent fiction—provably false.” He claims that their relationship was based on mutual consent and that “there are hundreds of emails from her telling me how much she loved me, how happy she was, and how excited she was about our future.”

Lonsdale implies that the charges stem in part from Cloughtery’s unease with her Catholic beliefs and an uneasy relationship to Clougherty’s mother, saying that “she and her mother discussed the most intimate details of our relationship […] including one time thanking me for the positive impact our sexual relationship had on her daughter” and that Cloughtery’s mother attempted to use Lonsdale for financial gain. He describes the Stanford investigation as a “Kafka-esque nightmare.”

In a statement given to Techcrunch, Cloughtery’s legal counsel replied to Lonsdale, saying, “Our client is no longer intimidated by Mr. Lonsdale and his threats, nor is she intimidated by his crafted PR statement.”



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