UConn settles federal lawsuit on sexual assault response
The University of Connecticut has settled a federal lawsuit filed by five women who claimed the school responded to their sexual assault complaints with indifference. The school announced Friday that it has agreed to pay nearly $1.3 million to the five women.
The lawsuit alleged discrimination based on Title IX, which guarantees equal educational opportunities to students of both genders at schools that receive federal funds. The largest settlement amount, $900,000, will go to a former UConn hockey player who said she was kicked off the team after reporting she had been raped by a male hockey player. The other four women will receive payments ranging from $25,000 to $125,000. One of them, Rosemary Richi, is entering her senior year at the university.
“I will never forget where we came from, and how we got here," she said. "But I am so proud of how far we’ve come.”
The settlement acknowledges that since the lawsuit was filed, UConn has enhanced employee training on issues of sexual harassment, established a new assistant dean position for dealing with victim support, and taken other steps to reduce sexual violence on campus. Carolyn Luby was the lead plaintiff.
“This lawsuit has catalyzed change on UConn’s campus, so that hopefully future generations of students do not have to experience sexual violence," said Luby. "And if they do, there will be systems in place to be sure they get the help and justice they deserve.”
Luby said she's optimistic about UConn’s proposed changes. "And I’m looking forward to seeing them implemented in ways that will make significant difference for years to come.”
None of the men involved in the complaints ever faced criminal charges. The school did not admit any wrongdoing in the settlement. University officials refused to speak on tape, but in a written statement the chairman of the school’s board of trustees said "It was clear to all parties that no good would have come from dragging this out for years as it consumed the time, attention and resources — both financial and emotional — of everyone involved."
After the federal lawsuit was filed, the Connecticut legislature held hearings and passed a law that mandates colleges in the state provide services to sexual assault victims, institute sexual assault policies, and report incidents to the state legislature.
The students’ attorney, Gloria Allred says she was impressed the Governor and Legislature took the allegations seriously.
“It’s the beginning, it’s not the end of what needs to be done," said Allred. "But we’re very happy that they took the first step.”
The U.S. Department of Education continues to investigate Title IX complaints filed by the plaintiffs and other women who filed complaints at UConn.
The settlement comes on the same day as a new study on violence between intimate partners at colleges and universities in the state.
The study says some schools in the state don’t have prevention or disciplinary mechanisms in place to properly address violence between intimate partners. Karen Jarmoc is with the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which conducted the study with the Injury Prevention Center at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. She says abuse includes more than just physical violence.
“Where they fall a bit short is really having some very clear definitions in their policies and in particular to include the definitions around economic abuse, emotional abuse, and technological abuse,” said Jarmoc.
15 of the 22 schools who responded to the survey do have policies prohibiting intimate partner violence, although the definitions of the abuse vary from school to school.