FAYETTEVILLE -- A former University of Arkansas at Fayetteville student has filed a federal lawsuit alleging the school acted with "deliberate indifference" after she reported being raped by another student.
The 29-page lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Fayetteville, says UA violated Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination at schools that receive federal funding. The suit names UA-Fayetteville and the university's board of trustees as defendants.
The university's "deliberate indifference resulted in risks to Plaintiff's safety and the loss of her ability to continue attending UofA," the suit states. The lawsuit was filed by a woman who was a 19-year-old Razorback athlete in October 2014 when she told police and school officials that she had been raped in her dorm room by a 23-year-old student who was a former Razorback athlete.
UA spokesman Mark Rushing said in a statement that UA strongly disagrees with the allegations in the lawsuit.
"We believe the plaintiff's concerns were fully investigated and addressed in a timely and comprehensive manner," Rushing said.
The woman alleges in her lawsuit that UA improperly handled a campus disciplinary process, did not adequately train people on the disciplinary panel who heard her case and failed to implement "athletic policies that clearly set out the procedure for trainers, coaches, and student-athletes to follow when a student-athlete is the victim of sexual assault."
Other schools in the nation also have been sued by students alleging Title IX violations, resulting in a range of outcomes.
In January, Florida State University announced that it had settled for $950,000 a Title IX lawsuit filed by a former student. The case gained national attention after the woman filing the case, Erica Kinsman, said she was raped by athlete Jameis Winston, now an NFL quarterback.
In another Title IX lawsuit, a federal judge in April issued a judgment for the University of Tulsa after a former student claimed that the school violated Title IX in the handling of her report of sexual violence, The Tulsa World reported.
Kimberly Hult, a Colorado attorney not involved with the UA case but who represented a student in a Title IX case against the University of Colorado that was settled in 2007, said the number of Title IX cases has increased "considerably."
"The point of a Title IX lawsuit, in these cases, is not to hold a university responsible for what an individual did but rather the university's own role in allowing the sexual harassment to occur or failing to address that sexual harassment once it did occur," said Hult, a member of the Hutchinson Black and Cook firm that represented Kinsman. Sexual violence, including sexual assault, is considered a form of sexual harassment, the U.S. Department of Education has said.
Rushing said UA-Fayetteville "acted proactively and appropriately" in addressing the student's concerns.
"While generally prohibited by federal law from releasing student information to the public, we are now able to provide all of the facts through the judicial process and will be responding in court soon to vigorously contest these allegations," Rushing said.
UA is among 206 schools under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights for its handling of reported sexual violence. In April, two investigations of UA were opened on the basis of student complaints to federal authorities.
In the latest lawsuit, the woman states that UA should have done more to protect her and other students given the former athlete's history of run-ins with police.
The lawsuit states that before October of 2014, the former athlete had been "arrested three prior times by the University of Arkansas Police Department." The suit lists the charges upon the man's arrest.
The lawsuit does not include dates or details of specific instances.
The man did not respond to a Facebook message requesting comment.
George Rozzell and Kristin Pawlik, the lawyers representing the woman in the suit, issued a statement Tuesday that UA "was aware that her attacker ... had a history of threatening and violent acts" and that the university "failed to act to protect" her and the campus at large.
After the October 2014 reported rape, a criminal investigation ended with no charges filed against the former athlete, who was still a UA student at the time. The former athlete told authorities that the dorm encounter with the woman was consensual.
A campus disciplinary panel in December 2014 expelled the former athlete.
The former athlete appealed the expulsion. He was told in a January 2015 letter from UA that he could receive his degree given that he had completed course requirements, as long as he performed community service and attended counseling.
UA later said that the letter was sent by mistake. The signature of G. David Gearhart, who retired as chancellor last year, was on the letter.
As examples of "deliberate indifference," the lawsuit states, are: "Issuing a letter, signed by the Chancellor, stating [the former athlete's] sanction was too harsh and delaying [his] punishment until after his graduation from the University," as well as, "Claiming that the original appeal decision had been sent in 'error' and signed without the Chancellor's approval."
The lawsuit also states that UA "delayed coordination of classroom accommodations, [and] delayed addressing of Plaintiff's room assignment where the assault occurred." Under Title IX, federal authorities stress the importance of interim measures such as housing or schedule accommodations for sexual violence and sexual harassment victims.
"Title IX requires universities to provide certain support to student victims of sexual assault," said the Rogers attorneys representing the woman who filed the suit. "By its failures to do so, the University denied [her] these services, and she has suffered damages as a result, including delays in her pursuit of higher education, trauma, emotional distress, fear and anxiety."
The suit also states that UA violated a federal law known as the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act because the UA disciplinary hearing was not conducted by officials who receive annual training on sexual assault issues and related topics.
The lawsuit states that the woman attends weekly therapy sessions "as a result of the sexual assault and actions of the Defendants," and that she suffered damages including anxiety and emotional distress, as well as expenses from moving and leaving UA, medical bills, the loss of future wages and "the loss of the benefits of a college education."
The lawsuit concludes with a request for damages, punitive damages, attorneys' and expert fees and "other relief of which this Court deems just and proper."
Metro on 08/24/2016
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