Sexual violence on school campuses is a serious civil rights issue – and colleges are bound by federal law to protect students from gender-based violence and harassment. That includes assaults committed by faculty members, staffers or other students. Those who are not protected are deprived of equal access to an education. New York City injury attorneys know that when administrators at schools that receive federal funds know about sexual harassment or assault in their programs and ignore it, victims can bring a civil claim against the school under Title IX.
This was what happened recently in the case of Roe v. St. Louis University, et al.. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled against the plaintiff here, finding she had failed to provide enough evidence that the school had acted with deliberate indifference. The case serves as a reminder that plaintiffs bear the burden of proof.
Earlier this year, the president at Columbia University announced the new policies for more transparent procedures, following numerous complaints regarding the school’s allegedly inadequate response to campus sexual assault claims.
Court records in the Roe case indicate that the student athlete accused a fellow student of rape at an off-campus fraternity party. While she did disclose the sexual assault to her coaches, she declined at that point to go to police or tell her parents. It wasn’t until after she had been expelled from the field hockey team for poor grades and attendance that she filed a criminal report upon returning to her home state.
Criminal charges were not filed for lack of evidence, but she and her parents pursued a civil action, alleging that the local and national chapters of the fraternity were negligent, as was the school, as a result of their deliberate indifference. The claims against the fraternity were dismissed in a summary motion. Later, so too was the claim against the university.
In order to prove deliberate indifference on the part of a university, the student has to show that an official with authority to address alleged discrimination (which here includes sexual assault) and to institute corrective measures on the recipient’s behalf had actual knowledge of the discrimination and failed to adequately respond.
Colleges are compelled to respond to cases of sexual assault against students — even when prosecutors decline to press charges.
Currently, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating roughly a dozen colleges and universities over an allegedly inadequate response to sexual violence.
In some cases, students can pursue a college on the basis not only of administrators’ response to a report of sexual assault, but also on the grounds of an inadequate policy on response to such matters. In a few instances, college administrators can be held personally liable.
Among other recent cases:
- The University of Colorado was ordered to pay $2.85 million to two students allegedly raped by football recruits and players at an off-campus recruiting event.
- Northwestern University has been sued in federal court by a student alleging deliberate indifference and retaliation after she reported that a professor had sexually assaulted her during her freshman year during a school-sponsored art event.
- Occidental College recently settled with 10 current and former students who alleged that the school repeatedly mishandled sexual assault allegations. The settlement was confidential, and involved only some of the originally 37 women who brought claim against the school.
The Law Offices of Nicholas Rose, PLLC offers free consultations. Call 1-877-313-7673.
Roe v. St. Louis University, et al., March 25, 2014, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
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