Atkinson, Former Lover Settle Suit : UCSD Chancellor Admits No Guilt; to Pay Up to $275,000

Times Staff Writer

UC San Diego Chancellor Richard Atkinson agreed Monday to pay up to $275,000 to a former Harvard University professor who had accused him of impregnating her and tricking her into having an abortion on a promise to father her child at a later date.

The court-approved settlement between Atkinson and Lee Perry came three days into a jury trial on a charge by Perry that Atkinson had caused her emotional distress by threatening to destroy her academic reputation and encouraging her to kill herself.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Feb. 6, 1986 For the Record Settlement Story Error Corrected
Los Angeles Times Thursday February 6, 1986 San Diego County Edition Metro Part 2 Page 10 Column 1 Metro Desk 3 inches; 84 words Type of Material: Correction
In an article Tuesday on the legal settlement between UC San Diego Chancellor Richard Atkinson and former Harvard professor Lee Perry, The Times incorrectly reported that a judge in October had denied Perry’s request for an order compelling Atkinson to impregnate her. That request, made in Perry’s initial complaint, had been dropped by Perry by the time the judge ruled. He ruled that the right to privacy barred Perry from suing Atkinson for fraud and deceit concerning a sexual relationship, but that she could sue for damages for emotional distress arising out of other aspects of the relationship.

In the agreement, Perry said she would drop almost all the litigation she had filed against Atkinson in two states. Atkinson agreed to pay her $125,000 within 30 days, another $125,000 on Oct. 5, and possibly another $25,000. But he did not admit any wrongdoing.

“It is understood that this settlement is not an admission of any liability by Richard C. Atkinson but is in compromise of a disputed claim, to avoid the expenses and uncertainties of litigation,” said the statement, filed in Superior Court in San Diego.

Atkinson’s lawyer, Marilyn Huff, said Atkinson agreed to settle after learning that Perry had filed a new lawsuit against him in Massachusetts, intended to file further litigation in California and planned to appeal the outcome of the current trial.


“So Dr. Atkinson felt that potentially this matter could be unending, and he and his wife wished to put the matter behind them and bring a close to all litigation between him and Dr. Perry,” Huff said Monday evening.

Atkinson, reached at home Monday night, declined further comment. Perry, who had moved to San Diego to pursue her court case and is now on the faculty of United States International University, did not respond to messages left at her home and with her answering service.

A spokeswoman for UCSD said university officials had nothing to say about the settlement.

“We really have no comment. This is the chancellor’s private business,” she said. “We’re referring all calls to his attorney.”

Perry, a clinical psychologist who is single and in her early 40s, filed suit against Atkinson in 1981, accusing him of fraud and deceit. She said he impregnated her during an affair in 1977, then persuaded her to have an abortion, promising to reimpregnate her at a later date.

She had asked for $2 million in damages to compensate for emotional damage she said she suffered.

Atkinson, who is 56 and married, denied virtually all the allegations in initial court filings. Huff said in court last week that Atkinson admitted having an affair with Perry but denied agreeing to impregnate her or suggesting suicide.

Perry had asked the court to order Atkinson to fulfill his promise to impregnate her--a request that Superior Court Judge Arthur W. Jones denied in October on the grounds that it would invade Atkinson’s privacy.

Jones had ruled, however, that there was sufficient evidence that Perry had suffered emotional trauma to justify a jury trial for damages. Perry had testified at length Thursday. Then the court had adjourned until Monday.

In the settlement, Perry agreed to drop most of those charges, as well as a defamation suit filed in September in Massachusetts. However, she reserved the right to appeal Jones’ ruling denying her request for an order that Atkinson impregnate her.

If her appeal succeeds, Atkinson may either ask for a rehearing or pay Perry an additional $25,000, according to the settlement. Perry agreed to waive her right to a trial if an appellate court of the California Supreme Court reverses Jones’ ruling.

The agreement states that Perry and Atkinson “now desire to settle their disputes with each other and intend this agreement to effectuate a complete resolution of any and all manner of action,” suits, claims, damages, losses, costs and expenses from the matter.

Atkinson, an experimental psychologist and an expert on applied mathematics, took over at UCSD in July, 1980. He was serving as deputy director and then director of the National Science Foundation during the period covered in Perry’s lawsuit.

Perry was an associate professor of education and associate director of a program in counseling and consulting psychology at Harvard Graduate School of Education. She said they had met at an international science conference in Paris in 1976.