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Wednesday, August 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Washington

Court dismisses student’s lawsuit against WSU

The campus of Washington State University is seen Aug. 17, 2011, in Pullman. WSU’s board of regents approved 2.4% tuition increases for most students on Friday, June 7, 2019. (Alan Berner / AP)
The campus of Washington State University is seen Aug. 17, 2011, in Pullman. WSU’s board of regents approved 2.4% tuition increases for most students on Friday, June 7, 2019. (Alan Berner / AP)

A lawsuit alleging Washington State University violated federal law and failed to protect an African-American student from a hostile campus environment in 2015 was dismissed from federal court last week.

According to the complaint, Dominique Stewart, who is black and was an 18-year-old WSU freshman at the time, was attending a social event at the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house Feb. 21, 2015, when she was allegedly called a racial slur – the n-word – and told to “get the (expletive) away from me,” by a fraternity member.

The incident sparked student protests and later led to a Black Lives Matter movement at the university.

WSU’s Office for Equal Opportunity initiated an investigation into the incident Feb. 23, 2015.

The Office of Student Conduct then held a hearing on the matter, and the fraternity member was ousted from the fraternity and the school. But, according to the lawsuit, Stewart claimed she continued to receive harassment from WSU students and members of the public on social media after the incident.

She also alleged in the suit that, as she was walking down WSU’s Greek Row, a passenger in a car of “young white males” threw a piece of chicken at Stewart, yelling the n-word and a term synonymous with “slut” at her.

The federal lawsuit, which was filed April 16, 2018, in Washington’s Western District Court, details an April 2015 meeting between Stewart, her friends, the late WSU President Elson S. Floyd and Director of Diversity Education Jeff Guillory, where Stewart claims she was victim-blamed by Floyd.

“The ‘conversation,’ ” the lawsuit claims, “was instead a victim-shaming, racially divisive lecture, in which President (Elson S.) Floyd informed the young women that they did not ‘belong’ at a ‘white’ fraternity and indicating that they should have known better.”

Court documents filed March 26 state the court decided WSU’s discipline of Stewart’s harasser and providing her with some access to counseling services was enough to disprove claims the university was deliberately acting indifferent.

“WSU’s response may have been far from perfect, but it does not rise to the level of deliberate indifference. A few statements from President Floyd that could be characterized as indifference are insufficient to create liability for WSU,” the documents state.

While the court said Floyd’s alleged comments were the strongest evidence of deliberate indifference, it ultimately decided WSU disciplinary actions would have more weight than a conversation with the president in the eyes of a jury.

“WSU’s actions spoke louder than words,” the documents state.

Stewart in her lawsuit sought damages from WSU and claimed she suffered severe physical and emotional distress.

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