Now Playing

Details Emerge in the Sexual Assault Lawsuit Against a Palantir Cofounder

Joe Lonsdale is denying the charges as his ex-girlfriend and alleged victim presses forward with a civil suit. 

Joe Lonsdale

Joe Lonsdale 


Joe Lonsdale, co-founder of the software company Palantir and the venture capital firm Formation 8, has been accused of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and a number of other charges in a civil suit filed by Elise Clougherty, a former girlfriend and intern—charges that Londsale has vociferously denied.

In her suit, 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 Clougherty was an undergraduate at Stanford and Lonsdale an alumnus mentor, and continued while she interned at his current company, VC firm Formation 8. Lonsdale has already been the subject of an internal investigation at Stanford—an investigation that resulted in the venture capitalist being banned from campus for at least ten years, and that Lonsdale has criticized as being an unfair overreaction to "political" pressure surrounding campus sexual assault. 

And Lonsdale has denied the civil suit's claims in an open letter, saying that the lawsuit represents “a vengeful, personal attack by a deranged ex-girlfriend.” He has also presented emails and other evidence that he says absolve him. He also told TechCrunch, which first broke the story, that he was planning to countersue. 

Read the civil suit against Lonsdale here (and be warned that it's extremely graphic). Read Lonsdale's open letter here.

Clougherty’s suit alleges 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 Clougherty—who it describes as a committed Catholic—entered quickly into a romantic relationship, meeting at multiple Palo Alto bars where Lonsdale “offered [Clougherty] alcohol—which she refused” and “talked about inappropriate sexual topics.” It goes on to describe in detail their first sexual encounter, alleging that Clougherty repeatedly tried to avoid Lonsdale's advances. According to the suit, Lonsdale told Clougherty “that it was women’s nature to enjoy being raped, especially if they are raped by a man with greater means.” Clougherty also alleges that Lonsdale continued to force sexual contact throughout the year the two dated, and that he physically assaulted her several times. 

All told, 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 from Clougherty's difficulty reconciling her faith and her sexuality, as well as from the uneasy relationship between Lonsdale and Clougherty’s mother; Lonsdale also claims that Clougherty’s mother attempted to use him for financial gain. He describes the Stanford investigation as a “Kafka-esque nightmare.”

In a statement to Techcrunch, Clougherty’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.” 


Have feedback? Email us at
Email Scott Lucas at
Follow us on Twitter @sanfranmag
Follow Scott Lucas on Twitter @ScottLucas86