In filing a federal lawsuit against the University of Connecticut on Friday, four plaintiffs who allege the school failed to adequately respond when they were raped said they felt victimized again by President Susan Herbst’s comments last week.
In response to an earlier Title IX complaint filed with the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights, Herbst said “the suggestion that the University of Connecticut, as an institution, would somehow be indifferent to, or dismissive of, any report of sexual assault is astonishingly misguided and demonstrably untrue.”
It was those comments that “triggered for me all the trauma I had experienced at the university,” Kylie Angell, a 2013 graduate of the school and plaintiff in the lawsuit, said Friday.
“The same sinking sense of betrayal I felt when reading her dismissive and demeaning address is one too familiar to me,” Angell said. “Listening to my personal study labeled as ‘demonstrably untrue’ and ‘astonishingly misguided’ felt like I was re-experiencing the trauma incurred by the university’s failure to protect me all over again.”
Nina Pirrotti, the New Haven attorney handling the complaint with Gloria Allred, said all four of the women share an “unfortunate bond in that they were victimized twice.”
Allred, who filed the Title IX complaint on behalf of seven students last week, said Herbst “appeared to question the motivation” of the seven young women.
“In reacting to the allegations of the students who alleged that UConn was deliberately indifferent to their reports of rape and sexual assault, she said in her statement to the UConn Board of Trustees, ‘I cannot speak to the motivations of people who have suggested this’,” Allred said.
Stephanie Reitz, a UConn spokeswoman, disputed the characterization of Herbst’s remarks.
“President Herbst did not comment on, or characterize, any of the specific allegations from the four women and did not question their motives,” Reitz said. “Rather, what she was challenging was the broad charge that UConn as an institution is “deliberately indifferent” to sexual assault and its victims. THAT is what she described as “misguided” and “untrue,” and was not in any way discussing the women’s allegations.”
Asked if the lawsuit was in response to Herbst’s remarks or was already in the planning stages, Allred said, “all I can say is this is what we filed today.”
The Title IX complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education will remain confidential and it’s currently unknown if there will be an investigation, but the federal lawsuit filed Friday goes into excruciating detail about each of the plaintiff’s personal experiences.
Erica Daniels, one of the four plaintiffs, says in the lawsuit that she was drugged and raped by a student she worked with in one of the dining halls.
“To date, UConn has done nothing to address Ms. Daniels’ allegation that she was raped by a fellow UConn student and co-worker, other than to issue the no-contact order,” the lawsuit says.
Rosemary Richi, who claims she was raped in a dorm room on campus by a member of the football team, said when she finally reported the rape to the university police they didn’t believe her.
“Detective Deveny told Ms. Richi that he did not believe her account of the assault and that all he was doing was taking down the information she provided to him,” the lawsuit says. “The report the detective generated following his interview of Ms. Richi had the wrong date of the assault and was riddled with grammatical and spelling errors.”
When the police stopped investigating her complaint they failed to inform her that she could bring her complaint to the Office of Community Standards in the University’s Division of Student Affairs, according to the lawsuit.
“Having a policy on a piece of paper is simply not enough. We need enforcement,” Allred said Friday. “We feel there are certainly problems with enforcement among other problems.”
The lawsuit filed Friday morning seeks an injunction and damages for discrimination on the basis of gender and retaliation in violation of Title IX, which guarantees equal educational opportunities at institutions such as the University of Connecticut. In addition, the lawsuit asks for compensatory damages for the plaintiffs’ emotional distress.
As far as the lawsuit is concerned, “the university does all in its power to appropriately investigate and handle such claims in a manner that is fully compliant with the law and grounded in both sensitivity and fairness,” Reitz said.
And because of the lawsuit there’s not much the university can say, she said.
“The university cannot discuss specific allegations publicly due to federal student privacy protections and the legal constraints of pending litigation, but will respond accordingly as part of the legal process in that venue,” Reitz said.
Meanwhile, the legislature’s Public Safety and Higher Education Committee’s announced they will hold an informational hearing at 2 p.m. Nov. 13 to determine whether public and private colleges and universities in Connecticut are complying with the legislative directives of legislation passed in 2012.
Legislature Plans Hearing
The hearing, a response to the filing of the Title IX complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, will seek to determine whether all the public and private universities in the state are complying with the law.
Allred said she appreciates lawmakers remarks regarding the complaint, but has yet to hear from them and would be happy to speak at the hearing.