Widgets Magazine

Palantir co-founder accused of sexually assaulting then-Stanford student

Joe Lonsdale ’04, co-founder of Palantir and founding partner of venture capital fund Formation 8, has been accused of gender violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment and several other charges by plaintiff Elise Clougherty ’13 in a lawsuit filed on Jan. 27.

Clougherty was an undergraduate when she first met Lonsdale, and the two began an allegedly abusive relationship in February 2012.

Clougherty took a class called High Technology Entrepreneurship in January 2012, and according to the lawsuit, Lonsdale, who had volunteered as a mentor for the class, “used his position of power…to initiate an intimate relationship with Ms. Clougherty.” The lawsuit also alleged that Lonsdale then leveraged his friendship with the course’s professor in order to have Clougherty re-assigned as his mentee.

Lonsdale responded to the lawsuit with a personal statement and called the accusations part of “a vengeful, personal attack by a disturbed former girlfriend.”

“Shortly after I ended the relationship in 2013, my ex-girlfriend began a malicious campaign of lies,” he wrote. “Upset that I was not willing to continue the relationship, she contacted business associates, friends and others advancing a repugnant and increasingly bizarre narrative of ‘abuse’ hoping to hurt me and damage my career. To quote the words she sent in a text to her close friend, this is a ‘Joe take down scheme.'”

Joe Lonsdale '14 (above) co-founded Palantir and is a founding partner of venture capital fund Foundation 8. (Courtesy of Joe Lonsdale, 2013)

Joe Lonsdale ’04 (above) co-founded Palantir and is a founding partner of venture capital fund Foundation 8. (Courtesy of Joe Lonsdale, 2013)

According to the lawsuit, Clougherty and Lonsdale were first introduced over email in 2011 as a result of Clougherty’s interest in technology entrepreneurship. During their first meeting, Lonsdale allegedly stroked Clougherty’s face and hair and leaned in to kiss her before she walked away.

The lawsuit claimed that Lonsdale raped Clougherty several times while serving as her mentor and later hired her as an intern for Formation 8 in May 2012 in order to remain close to her. He allegedly continued to force himself upon Clougherty over the following months, and his interspersed moments of loving behavior caused Clougherty to become “powerfully attached” to Lonsdale.

After Lonsdale’s actions grew even more abusive, Clougherty and her mother reported Lonsdale’s actions to Stanford in February 2013, according to the lawsuit. After an investigation of Clougherty’s allegations, the University banned Lonsdale from campus for a minimum of 10 years under its Title IX policy.

According to Stanford spokeswoman Lisa Lapin, the University cannot comment on the case without a FERPA waiver from Clougherty or her counsel.

In March 2013 Clougherty took a doctor-prescribed medical leave from Stanford and was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The University allowed Clougherty to complete her degree from home, and she graduated on time in June 2013.

“Our client is no longer intimidated by Mr. Lonsdale and his threats, nor is she intimidated by his crafted PR statement,” Clougherty’s counsel wrote in a statement to TechCrunch.

Lonsdale has denied all claims against him and is preparing to file a countersuit for defamation.

“The lawsuit is a vile collection of lies and a transparent attempt to destroy the reputation and good name of Joe Lonsdale,” wrote Lonsdale’s lawyer, Kristen Dumont, to TechCrunch.

In his statement, Lonsdale also published several loving emails from Clougherty and linked to an affidavit from a third party who had allegedly been close to Clougherty.

“She was with Joe for a long time and never said he was abusive in any way when they were together, and nothing I observed suggested the relationship was anything other than ‘normal’ and loving,” wrote the friend.

According to Lonsdale, after Clougherty’s complaints Stanford first found that their relationship was consensual and initially only asked that he disclose its existence to the University. However, Lonsdale claimed that after further pressure from Clougherty and her mother, Stanford conducted another investigation during which the allegations were kept secret.

“Stanford has been in the spotlight in connection with its prior mishandling of on-campus sexual assault claims. Her team of lawyers exploited this political climate to their benefit. Under this pressure from my ex-girlfriend and her lawyers, Stanford initiated a second investigation, dispensing from the outset with any pretense of fairness,” Lonsdale said. “It’s not an overstatement to say that what followed was a Kafka-esque nightmare.”

“The University never spoke to key witnesses with direct, personal knowledge, whose testimony would further prove she was lying,” he added.

During his time as a student at Stanford, Lonsdale was the Editor in Chief of the Stanford Review, and he founded Palantir in the same year he graduated in 2004.

Lonsdale faces counts of sexual battery, sexual assault, domestic violence, gender violence, sexual harassment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The civil lawsuit also includes a charge of negligent retention and supervision against Formation 8.


Contact Kylie Jue at kyliej ‘at’ stanford.edu.

TechCrunch published copies of the lawsuit and Lonsdale’s personal statement on Wednesday:

Formation 8 Joe Lonsdale Lawsuit

Joe Lonsdale Personal Statement Email

About Kylie Jue

Kylie Jue '17 is the Editor-in-Chief for Vol. 250. She first became involved with The Daily as a high school intern and now is a CS+English major at Stanford. A senior from Cupertino, California, she has also worked a CS 106 section leader. To contact Kylie, email her at kyliej ‘at’ stanford.edu.
  • Therapist

    Employers, therapists, teachers (or ‘Mentors’) having sex with employees, clients, or students is a crime, isn’t it? We in the 21st century now know how damaging these relationships are for the students, don’t we?
    Classrooms are not dating opportunities for authority figures.
    Who in the Stanford community is unclear about the power differential? This ‘mentor’ pursued a student (with the help of her professor?).
    How many training session does this professor and this mentor need to realize that that this is a betrayal of the student’s trust?
    Joe will recover easily from this law suit. He will pay his fine and move on, except for karma of course. Perhaps Joe’s daughter will have a mentor like this.

  • Orange

    Read the information released.
    I believe her ex-friend’s affidavit. Her friend’s comments about Ellie’s obsession with her religion is consistent with those INSANELY LONG emails that Ellie sent Joe. Did he really read all of that? Maybe he is a bit off too if he put up with those long rambling discourses without seeing how unstable and off the wall she appeared. The emails describing her week at a mental asylum, her “perfectionism”, her brain being altered by PANDAS are truly scary!

    Ellie is the perfect candidate to be a Stepford wife to some equally deranged right winger in the future. She probably believed that she and Joe were meant to be together so she offered herself to him, he was her first and so how dare he break up with her? She has now “sinned”! She is channeling that “God she went and sat next to” (yes she said that in one of her loooong rambling emails) and is punishing Joe for luring her into sin (or some such nonsense that springs from her religious obsession). And this vendetta is propelled by a helicopter mom who seems a bit off too.

    Unfortunately Ellie appears to have hijacked the very real issues of campus rape and gender violence.

  • Orange

    No kidding. And an invoice to go see a therapist on his own. I have a headache after reading those rambling INSANE emails from Ellie.

  • Orange

    Please do not confuse the genuine issue of rape culture at UVA (that may have been botched by RS editorial practices that they have acknowledged but is nevertheless a real problem) with this crazy woman’s story.

  • Orange

    Ellie is the perfect candidate to be a Stepford wife to some equally deranged right winger in the future. She probably believed that she and Joe were meant to be together so she offered herself to him, he was her first and so how dare he break up with her? She has now “sinned”! She is channeling that “God she went and sat next to” (yes she said that in one of her loooong rambling emails) and is punishing Joe for luring her into sin (or some such nonsense that springs from her religious obsession).

  • p_chazz

    Each incident of alleged rape should be judged on its own facts and circumstances, not conflated into some nebulous thing called “rape culture”.

  • John

    It’s important that we learn from this incident to make our campus safer. It’s impossible for us (or the Stanford courts) to know what really happened in this relationship. They need to ban Joe from campus to send a message that rape is not ok. Did you know 40% of women are raped in college? Even if Joe didn’t do it, don’t you think $75K (for a multi-millionaire) and 10years off the farm is a small price to pay compared to what future rape victims have to overcome?

  • john

    I think it’s important to learn from this incident to make our campus safer. It will be very difficult for the Stanford courts to figure out what happened in this relationship, but if they allow him back on campus it will be sending a message that rape is ok. Did you know that 40% of women are raped in college? Even if Joe didn’t do it, don’t you think 10 years off the farm and 75K (for a multi-millionaire) is a small price to pay compared to the baggage future rape victims must live with for the rest of their lives?

  • Guest, too

    So it’s 40% now? Do you guys define hand holding as rape now?

  • JoeMo

    hahahaha, i said the same thing

  • Tool shed

    The crazy mom thing seems like a big part of this case. The case started when the mother found out the daughter was no longer a virgin AND the relationship was over. After the mom gets involved, the rape claims become prominent. This is a similar story in a case against a Columbia student that was profiled in the NYTimes this December. Other points:
    –Joe is a grade A-jerk, he was in my dorm long ago.
    –it’s unfortunate the stanford’s process doesn’t follow the rules of evidence and a legal proceeding.
    –there’s not enough evidence here for a criminal complaint.

  • TheProducer

    good monday-morning-read, for what its worth, This could make for a good screenplay

  • Justin

    One thing I think that is worth considering is false accusations of rape are exceedingly rare (only ~1.5-8% are false http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_accusation_of_rape ). Sure it is possible it is a false accusation, but I am guessing it’s not. What I think would be interesting is a perspective from his other previous girlfriends. I haven’t seen anything from any of them yet.

  • Jess

    Actually, she’s attending grad school at the University of Virginia. She went to Stanford for undergrad.

  • Jess

    Makes you wonder what her application essay to Stanford was like.

  • Will Khan

    I think when this matter gets into the courts, where it should be adjudicated (and not within the university), the evidence will support Joe.

  • Theo Person

    Unfortunately, this young woman (and her mother) seem desperately in need of help. Like Jackie Coakley at UVA, Ellie Clougherty (if she fails in her case) will make it harder for real victims of sexual assault to be taken seriously. At least this matter is going to be adjudicated by a court of law and not admins on campus. Anyone who has read Joe Lonsdale’s full statement (including the emails from Ellie, Ellie’s overbearing mother (yikes) and Ellie’s friend has serious doubts about Ellie’s assertions and mental stability. This will do far more damage to her personally than it ever will to Lonsdale.

  • Tom Quinn

    It’s not for her, but the District Attorney, to pursue any criminal charges.

  • Tom Quinn

    If the New York Times magazine article is a fair reflection of the state of the evidence in this matter, she will surely fail. Don’t be surprised if all this implodes on her sooner than later.

  • 1MegaBeast2

    If she was raped why did she continue to date him for a year? She seems like she concocted this fable after the fact to get over her bitterness and feelings of rejection. She seems like a classic liberal who does not want to take responsibility for her own actions. Rape is a horrible crime, but it is even worse to cry rape when you were not.

  • Theo Person

    Her mother probably wrote it for her.

  • rick131

    The girl is a nut. After reading the details, I feel bad for the guy. She and her mother really took advantage and used him and his money.

  • Lucinda Jezzebelle Blackletter

    Yes……and the pages of emails detailing her mental illness and how she accused everyone in the mental hospital of the very same things that she later accused Joe of……naw, why would that actually make a difference.

  • Lucinda Jezzebelle Blackletter

    These details are germane to the case because Ellie is EXTREMELY religious. She would not have just handed over her virtue, it had to have been STOLEN from her by Joe.

  • StanfordThought

    First world problems. Eating disorder, PTSD? For what? There is no validity, and same goes for this case.

  • tran

    Read The Stanford Undergraduate and the Mentor in the New York Times if you want to know the whole story. She and her family accused him of sexual predatory practice just so she can relieve her religious shame and maintaining her and her family’s image that she’s a beautiful innocent girl who was taken advantage of. If you don’t come from a religious background, you may not appreciate the guilt and shame that’s intertwined with the message of salvation.

    From what I gathered after reading this long article and well done paper, is that this is a case in which a woman decided to act differently from the Catholic values of her upbringing, but when the shame took over she decided to attempt to destroy a man’s life instead of accepting responsibility.

    She slept with a man she was clearly attracted to in luxury hotels all over Europe, but something happened. Maybe she realized that he wasn’t the right person? Hence ‘wasting” her virginity on someone who is not her husband. Maybe the Catholic shame of losing her virginity marriage caught up to her? What ever happened, instead of admitting to herself that it was of free will she decides to put all the blame on him to assuage her of her own guilt. This would have been wrong in and of itself, but she then took the extra step of accusing him publicly to make him into a predator. Her family still lives under the illusion (because of what she told them) that she is “innocent little girl” who can do no wrong. Maybe she is, but the reality is that she CHOSE to be with this man.

    What amazes me about this whole thing is how little consideration she had for his life and career. I’m all up for holding people accountable who do wrong, but in this case she, her family and friends attempted to destroy him just so they can believe that she would never have sex with another man, because you know… that would be the worst thing a woman can do before marriage.

  • Stanford Alumnus 2

    Did he force her to stay in luxurious hotels in Italy? Really? Give me a break….

  • Stanford alumnus 2

    NO… SHE was the one who wrote a letter to Stanford accusing him of beign a sexual predator. I’m 100% she made it up to make herself feel better about having sex with a man before marriage.

  • Stanford Alumnus fdfd

    Thinking back at my Stanford days, most of these women would never give a man from a middle-class background a chance. They somehow believe that they deserve a man who comes from a wealthy background and destined to make millions.

    This is all fine, but at the same time they want to act like they are a saint. One possibility in this story is that maybe she sensed he was trying to break up with her and the LAST thing these women want is to not have the power. Maybe when she realized that having sex with him wasn’t going to be enough to trap a 29 yo millionaire to her, she couldn’t accept the loss of power she’s been hearing. The vagina is the root of all power lol.

  • umm…

    Liberal? What does being a liberal have ANYTHING to do with this. For the record, she is a very conservative catholic who probably is feeling guilty about having sex…

  • Justinz

    Of course he forced her to stay with him in luxury hotels all over Europe… come on man give me a break.

  • Gust is idiot

    “Even if Joe didn’t do it, don’t you think…” WHAT? So punish an innocent person for other people’s crimes? Are you sane?

  • John WOW

    How do you use “It’s impossible… to know” and then conclude with “They need to ban Joe”? Clearly, you didn’t go to Stanford and if you did you probably went there because your family gave money.

  • ohwell

    Guess what, even if your rape your WIFE you’re still a RAPIST and can go to jail. So no need for ridiculous defenses “she was in a relationship with him”. Looks like Stanford had a predator on the prowl, hunting for young dumb students. Big lawsuit potential, Stanford university….

  • Robert Riversong

    Update: On November 2, 2015 Clougherty’s suit and Lonsdale’s countersuit were settled in an undisclosed manner, and on November 3 Stanford University reversed its finding against Lonsdale of sexual misconduct and harassment, after initially denying him even the right of appeal since he was neither student nor employee of the university, but a volunteer mentor.

    For the full story, Google “Two Over-Privileged Millennials Engage in Sex and Get F-cked”.