A Spokane County jury awarded a Gonzaga University graduate $1.1 million in damages Tuesday, saying the university had violated his civil rights when it passed on unverified rape allegations against him to state investigators.
Ending a two-week civil trial, the seven-woman, five-man jury said GU must pay 26-year-old Ru Paster $855,000 in actual damages.
The jury also awarded $300,000 in punitive damages.
“This was never about money,” said Paster, who hugged his mother after the verdict.
Paster found vindication in seeing his alma mater hit with one of the state’s biggest civil awards against a private college. The former education major’s plans of becoming a teacher were torpedoed by the rape allegations.
“Even if they awarded me zero dollars, it would have been fine as long as I got a verdict in my favor,” Paster said. “And the truth.”
But if he were to send in his application for a teaching certificate now, state officials in Olympia still would have a file detailing the allegations.
“I’ll have to think about whether I can teach - ever,” said Paster, who works in a Southern California hotel. “Right now, I have to go back and help my co-workers in San Diego. They’ve covered for me the past three weeks.”
The key issue in the trial was whether GU was negligent when it contacted state officials in late 1993 and passed on unverified reports that Paster had raped his former girlfriend three times in 1992.
While Paster took courses at GU, unaware of the date-rape allegations, several campus workers and administrators concluded he had forced student Julie Peyton to have sex with him.
Administrators never offered Paster a way to challenge those allegations. Because of that, the jury decided GU had violated its implied contract with students, as outlined in a handbook. It indicates that student-behavior problems will be addressed in an open hearing.
Paster graduated in late 1993. Months later, when asking GU to send the state his teacher application, he was told the school needed to attach a statement saying it had “knowledge” of potential serious behavior problems.
Paster refused to let GU add the statement, put his teaching plans on hold and filed a lawsuit in Spokane County Superior Court.
After filing the suit, Paster learned that Peyton had told GU officials that the allegations were not true.
A campus health clinic doctor and a teacher reported separately that Peyton had claimed to have been raped by Paster.
Peyton testified during the trial via videotape. Her remarks were generally viewed by jurors as uncertain and too confusing to be given much value.
The jury was clearly swayed by Paster’s emotional testimony and his attorney’s portrayal of his “three years of hell,” waiting to set the record straight.
Jurors spent five hours deliberating over two days before reaching the verdict. One juror held out in favor of Gonzaga, voting against awarding damages to Paster.
“That one person didn’t want to punish Gonzaga,” said juror Pete Johnston. “The rest of us agreed that the school didn’t give this guy fair treatment.
“It was clear to me early on that the university did not act on ‘knowledge.’ They were acting on rumors.”
Attorney Jerry Cartwright, who defended the university, had little to say after the verdict. An appeal is “very likely,” he said.
Paster’s lawsuit named three GU employees as co-defendants. Former dorm adviser Julia Lynch-Talbot, education school coordinator Roberta League and former faculty member Susan Kyle were all found to have defamed Paster and invaded his privacy.
The three women, however, won’t bear any personal liability, Cartwright said.
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