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Thursday, November 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Student sues University of Idaho over response to sexual assault

By Josh Babcock Lewiston Tribune

MOSCOW - A lawsuit filed in federal court alleges the University of Idaho failed to accommodate and protect a victim of sexual assault.

According to documents filed in U.S. District Court of Idaho, the victim claims that after filing a formal complaint and informing university officials of a sexual assault by another student, she received no accommodations from the school and was told that if she didn’t want to face the male student in class, she could listen to audio recordings of her lectures at home, sit in the back of the classroom or move to the Boise campus.

“It’s not an accommodation, it’s punishment,” the victim claimed in an email sent to the university’s Title IX coordinator, Erin Agidius.

University spokeswoman Jodi Walker said she was “unable to comment on pending litigation.”

The assault reportedly occurred off campus on Feb. 11, 2016, according to court documents. The alleged victim reported the assault to the university five days later, following text messages from the male student apologizing for making “a horrible mistake.” She then filed a formal complaint one week later, and the university’s Title IX investigators did not respond to her complaint for more than a month.

The lawsuit claims the university violated Title IX by lacking accommodations for the victim. The university receives federal funding and is thereby tasked with meeting Title IX requirements.

Despite the victim and two other students in the class having no-contact orders against the male student and informing university officials of those orders, the male student was not asked to leave class, to listen to audio recordings at home, or to sit in the back of the classroom, according to court documents.

The woman tried video conferencing, but Agidius reportedly told her that it wasn’t “available for her classes and that her voluntary seat reassignment to the back of the class was sufficient,” according to court documents.

The woman claimed the only accommodation the school made was asking the alleged perpetrator to smoke in a different space - farther away from her. She said she also was unable to attend in-school gatherings off campus because the alleged perpetrator was there.

According to the Department of Education’s Dear Colleague Letter, which outlines requirements educational institutions need to follow while investigating cases of sexual assault, under Title IX schools are obligated “to protect the complainant as necessary, including taking interim steps before the final outcome of the investigation.”

The guideline also states that schools should prohibit alleged perpetrators from having contact with victims and when taking those steps to separate the complainant and the alleged perpetrator, “a school should minimize the burden on the complainant, and thus should not, as a matter of course, remove complainants from classes or housing while allowing alleged perpetrators to remain.”

“They did everything they could possibly do wrong,” said the woman’s attorney, Brook Cunningham, of Spokane. “She was the one accommodating this guy; she even linked (Agidius) a copy of the requirements under Title IX.”

When the woman continued to express to the university the accommodations were not adequate, Agidius suggested she transfer to the Boise campus and that UI would waive the transfer deadline.

“I appreciate the suggestion that I entirely change my life, uproot my kids and ask my fiance to find a new job, in order to move to Boise and attend classes in a less-hostile work environment. Are you kidding me?” the woman wrote to the Title IX coordinator. “I’m having difficulty identifying a single way any member of this administration has served to support my access to the school and my continued participation in my education.”

Department of Education guidelines also state Title IX requires the school afford the complainant a prompt and equitable resolution of sexual assault claims. The woman alleges it took the university more than seven months to suspend the male student from school and complete the process. Meanwhile, she had her friends escort her around campus in fear of running into the man, who she claims intimidated her outside of her classes.

The Title IX investigation concluded the woman was sexually assaulted by the man she named as the perpetrator. The matter went before the Student Disciplinary Review Board about three months later, in late July, and the board also concluded the woman was sexually assaulted. Despite those findings by the university, the man was not asked to leave the woman’s classes.

She said she contacted College of Law Dean Jeff Dodge in early August to discuss accommodations, but she was informed by Dodge that the male student appealed the board’s decision and was “permitted to stay in class while the final appeal awaits decision.”

According to court documents, Dodge told the woman that video conferencing, audio recordings of lectures, seating arrangements and reminders to the professor about the no-contact orders in the class were the accommodations while the hearing was pending.

“The issue is not that someone has forgotten the existence of a no-contact order, but that the school has rendered it virtually meaningless and that it is not providing protection,” the woman wrote in a reply email to Dodge. “Arranging for me to have my classes recorded, along with the expectation that I will continue to bow quietly out of the way, find a backseat or the exit, and continue to wait silently for it to be safe to return to school seems to put quite a bit of responsibility for this situation on me.”

The woman later discovered that her no-contact order had expired in April and she was not protected from the man the university found sexually assaulted her.

The woman said she didn’t attend morning classes the first day of the current semester.

“I abstained from attending class this morning in order to avoid in any way, shape or form inconveniencing the man who sexually assaulted me while seeing to my own safety,” she wrote in an email to Dodge. “Upon entering the building (late, so as to avoid contact with the perpetrator), his was the first face I saw.”

In late September, the Student Appeals Committee upheld the board’s decision and the man was suspended from campus for one year.

Cunningham said the woman never went to police because she thought the university would be able to confidentially manage the case. That confidentiality was breached when the perpetrator hired a lawyer to represent him and began asking students in the victim’s class about her state of mind, as stated in the court documents.

“She was trying to keep it confidential. They said they would deal with it quietly and they didn’t,” Cunningham said.

The woman has since left campus to attend an internship and is suing the university for intentional and negligent emotional distress. She also is seeking reimbursement for attorney fees and court costs.

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