Former diver Mairin Jameson sued the University of Idaho in federal court this week, seeking monetary damages for the university’s mistakes in handling her sexual assault complaint in 2013.
Jameson’s account of harassment by a football player, culminating in him reaching under her skirt at a bar in April 2013, led this year to an independent investigation and the dismissal of Athletic Director Rob Spear. The Statesman first reported on Jameson’s experience in March, a little more than a month after she detailed it on a friend’s Tumblr blog.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for Idaho late Tuesday afternoon. It claims university staff members were ill-prepared to handle Jameson’s accusation against football player Jahrie Level, and that two prior complaints regarding Level weren’t given proper attention.
“You have six individuals who are University of Idaho staff (who knew about Jameson’s complaint) and not one of them knew how to properly follow Title IX, which is just a travesty,” said Spokane, Wash.-based attorney Brook Cunningham, who represents Jameson for Randall | Danskin. “The other thing I think is really important is there were prior complaints and this was a situation where they actually could have prevented the sexual assault.”
U of I spokeswoman Jodi Walker said the school hadn’t seen the lawsuit as of late Wednesday morning.
The university admitted mistakes in Jameson’s case in a March statement to the Idaho Statesman.
“The university acknowledges the matter was initially mishandled,” the statement read. “(Jameson) says she did not feel supported by the athletics department and was given incorrect information about her options under U of I policy regarding sexual assault or harassment. For that we must, and do, express our apology and our regret for making worse an already difficult and personally challenging time for her.”
The lawsuit alleges:
▪ A violation of Title IX for how Jameson’s complaint was handled.
▪ A violation of Title IX based on the prior complaints. “A heightened-risk claim,” Cunningham said.
▪ Negligence by the university, for its lack of Title IX training and “deviating significantly from the standard of care outlined” by the Department of Education, according to the complaint. Spear has argued that the athletic department didn’t receive sufficient Title IX training.
▪ And intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory damages and attorney fees. Non-economic damages are capped in Idaho at $357,210.
The timing of Jameson’s lawsuit likely will be an issue. Her attorneys expect U of I to challenge the lawsuit based on a two-year statute of limitations. However, they say the clock shouldn’t start until she reasonably could have known about the university’s mistakes — and that didn’t happen until this year when the issues were investigated and reported.
“Since Mairin was never told of her Title IX rights, she was never aware she had a claim,” Cunningham said.
A lawsuit wasn’t the intention when Jameson first wrote publicly about her case in January, she said. Her perspective changed as she learned more about what happened — including that Spear was told of mistakes made in the case at a meeting with university legal counsel on May 7, 2013, but didn’t acknowledge the errors or apologize to her until February 2018.
She already knew of another case: Level was accused of harassing and threatening track athlete Maggie Miller in April 2013 — 13 days before Jameson’s assault. Jameson witnessed an interaction between Level and Miller.
Reporting by the Idaho Statesman also revealed Level was involved in an incident that put a female student in the hospital with alcohol poisoning and severe bruising in November 2012. He was cited for providing alcohol to two students younger than 21 in that case.
“I knew ... that they weren’t taking Maggie and myself seriously,” Jameson said. “To hear five years later that six months prior, there was an even worse situation? ... If they had taken correct actions toward him those times, my assault wouldn’t have ever happened, and that was the tipping point for me.”
Jameson stayed at U of I after the assault and competed as a senior in 2013-14. She said she dealt with anxiety throughout that year and was “a head case.”
She now feels “guilty” taking legal action, she said.
“I didn’t want it to come to this,” she said. “I feel like had I gotten an apology five years ago, none of this would have happened. If they had came to me in (May 2013) and said, ‘Listen, sorry, we weren’t trained and we’re going to make changes’ — I do think that they have — had they said that to me, I would have loved that. That’s my way of making the University of Idaho better.
“Instead, they hid it under the rug. They didn’t want anyone to know they made a mistake. Now, it’s five years later and now you have to own up to it.”