Title IX Sexual Harassment Case Against The U. of Colorado Reinstated

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On September 6th, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit reversed an appalling dismissal of a Title IX sexual harassment case, Simpson v. University of Colorado. Here are some excerpts from the AAUW’s “case history”:

Lisa Simpson, former student at the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU) from 2000 to 2004, sued the university under of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 for failing to remedy the sexually hostile environment on campus that led to her sexual assault and harassment by university football recruits and players. Another female student filed a separate complaint against the university (now consolidated with Simpson’s) that alleged similar facts.

Simpson alleges that on a night in December 2001, she and a few other female friends were drinking at her off-campus apartment and became intoxicated. She claims that one of the women at the apartment, who was a tutor for CU’s football team, mentioned that a few of her friends, who were football players, would be visiting that night. Ultimately, approximately 16-20 football players and recruits, many of whom were intoxicated, arrived at Simpson’s apartment. Simpson alleges that a little while after the group arrived, she went to her bedroom and fell asleep, but awoke a short time later to find two recruits removing her clothing. She alleges that she was sexually assaulted by numerous recruits and football players, and observed that another female student was being sexually assaulted by at least one football player in the same room.

Early the next morning, Simpson’s roommate took her to a community hospital, where she reported the sexual assaults to hospital staff. She declined a rape kit examination at that time, but received one two days later. Simpson’s roommate also reported the events to CU’s Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and the director of the university’s Office of Victim’s Assistance the day after the events took place. Simpson states that following an investigation, CU’s Office of Judicial Affairs charged several of the involved football players with code of conduct violations, but declined to pursue sexual assault charges against the students involved. She notes that none of the CU football players lost his eligibility to play in any subsequent football games. …

… Simpson asserts that since at least the fall of 1995, CU has known about sexual assaults, alcohol abuse, and other illicit activities that occur during school-sponsored campus visits by football recruits. To support this allegation, she notes that over the course of the past several years, numerous young women have reported to CU officials that they were sexually assaulted by football players and recruits during these visits. Simpson states that despite knowing about these activities, and against the advice of the county’s district attorney’s office, CU has failed to adequately remedy the sexually hostile environment. …

Though the district court assumed for the purposes of its decision that the gang rapes had occurred, the judge granted Summary Judgment to the University of Colorado in March 2005, ruling that, as a matter of law, the plaintiffs could not prove that the University should be held responsible for the sexual assaults. In response, the ACLU (among others) filed an amicus brief arguing that the University “was liable under Title IX for the sexual assault of the appellants because the University was on notice of a pattern of sexual assault and harassment in the football program and acted with deliberate indifference to the ongoing culture of hostility and abuse of women.”

The unanimous 10th Circuit panel found that the plaintiffs had presented enough evidence to enable a jury to conclude that the University had an official policy of showing high school football recruits a”good time”on their visits to campus, had an awareness of previous misbehavior by people affliaited with the football program, and that the sexual assaults againts Plaintiffs were caused by the University’s failure to provide adequate supervision to prevent the obvious risks of sexual misconduct. Additional analysis can be found at The Title IX Blog. The National Women’s Law Center is representing Simpson, according to the press release here.

–Ann Bartow

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