Alleged victim, attacker in sexual assault each sue U of I, claim it mishandled case

The University of Idaho’s Administration Building on the Moscow campus.
The University of Idaho’s Administration Building on the Moscow campus.

Both the victim of an off-campus sexual assault and the man accused of attacking her have sued the University of Idaho, claiming the university botched their case.

The victim alleges in federal court that, while the school looked into her case and eventually concluded she was likely assaulted, it failed to protect and accommodate her throughout the process as required by law, magnifying her emotional distress.

Her alleged abuser first sued the university’s board of regents and various employees in state court in July 2016. His most recent amended complaint argues the school did not follow proper hearing procedures and that its Title IX staff wasn’t properly trained.

Title IX is part of a 1972 federal law barring sex-based discrimination in education. Among other things, it governs how universities investigate incidents of sexual assault.

The cases come as U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos pulls back from an Obama administration policy that let schools apply a less-stringent standard of evidence to sexual assault cases. Among the man’s complaints is that the standard used in this case — “a preponderance of the evidence” — biased the system in favor of the woman.

The assault in February 2016 was never referred to police, but U of I officials did sanction the man for his actions after a series of hearings and appeals. It appears his punishment included a suspension from the university for most of the fall 2016 semester.

The Statesman generally does not name victims of sexual assault and is not naming either of the suing parties. Both were students on the Moscow campus. Both lawsuits claim the situation has caused ongoing problems with each plaintiff’s subsequent employment or education.

In her Oct. 12 lawsuit, the woman describes multiple ways U of I administrators reportedly made her adjust her classes or miss school events, and says they did not make the same requests of her alleged assailant. A dean suggested she stop attending classes she shared with the man and listen to recordings at home instead. A no-contact order in the case expired, but university officials did not tell her that until several months later, she claims. And a mishandled university hearing dragged out the situation and forced a rehearing. At one point, officials suggested the woman transfer to the U of I’s Boise campus.

“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,” the woman replied, according to the lawsuit. “Are you kidding me?”

According to that lawsuit, U of I officials started to take the protective steps the woman sought only after she filed a tort claim last November. That was also a few days after a university appeals committee, visiting the matter for the second time, concluded the man likely violated a student code regarding sexual misconduct. (A second claim regarding “persistent or severe verbal abuse” was dropped at that point, according to court records.)

“They did everything they could possibly do wrong,” the woman’s attorney, Brook Cunningham of Spokane, told the Lewiston Tribune in a story published Thursday. “She was the one accommodating this guy.”

Cunningham told the Tribune that the woman didn’t go to police because she thought the university would handle the case confidentially. That didn’t happen, the lawsuit states, as the man hired a lawyer who reportedly started to ask students about the woman’s state of mind.

The man, in turn, argues in 2nd District Court in Latah County that the university did not just flub the one hearing, but made procedural and policy mistakes throughout the case that robbed him of due process. He also argues a gag order on the proceedings interfered with his free speech rights.

Among his allegations: The woman contradicted her own testimony at certain points, and a former U of I employee involved in the hearings took steps to improperly influence their outcomes. The employee later emailed the woman, saying “he intentionally made [the man] look like a ‘big jerk’” at the first appeal hearing, the lawsuit states.

The man asks that the university admit to violating several of his state and federal constitutional rights, remove the sanctions and absolve him of wrongdoing.

Most recently, District Judge Jay Gaskill on Oct. 3 dismissed two of the man’s claims that the U of I violated public records law, and denied a request to make the university turn over certain privileged or redacted documents. The man this Tuesday asked the judge to reconsider the ruling.

The man’s attorney is James E. Johnson of Moscow, who declined to comment on the cases Thursday.

University spokeswoman Jodi Walker also said she could not comment on pending litigation.

Nate Poppino: 208-377-6481, @npoppino

Cynthia Sewell: 208-377-6428, @CynthiaSewell