EAST LANSING, Mich. ― Four Michigan State University students filed a civil rights lawsuit Wednesday accusing the school and its leadership of a slow and inadequate response to their sexual assault complaints.
The women said university administrators acted with “deliberate indifference” by failing to properly investigate and by violating school policies meant to prohibit harassment of victims who file a report.
Their lawsuit came nearly three months after the federal government concluded that the school’s failure to timely address complaints of sexual assault or harassment contributed to a “sexually hostile environment.” The U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights closed its investigation and noted improvements at the East Lansing campus.
A spokesman for the university said it does not comment on pending litigation.
“Sexual misconduct in all of its forms is an issue university leaders take very seriously,” Jason Cody said. “Over the past several years, MSU has taken significant steps to increase resources for survivors and revise policies to hear complaints in a timely and fair manner consistent with federal guidance.”
Two of the women who filed the suit, Emily Kollaritsch and Shayna Gross, appeared at a news conference near campus to discuss their allegations. Both women say they were assaulted by the same male student.
“I am speaking out today so that other survivors know they have a right to report a sexual assault without being subject to further abuse because they report it to their university,” Kollaritsch said.
The Associated Press does not generally identify sex assault victims, but Kollaritsch and Gross revealed their names in the suit and spoke publicly about the allegations. The lawsuit identifies the other two plaintiffs as Jane Roe 1 and 2.
Kollaritsch said a male student tried to rape her in her dorm in October 2011, then sexually assaulted her in the stands at a Michigan State football game. He was put on probationary status and given a no-contact order but began stalking, harassing and intimidating Kollaritsch, according to the suit. A school investigation determined no retaliation occurred.
Gross said the same student raped her three times in one night in February 2013. A university investigation found that he sexually assaulted Gross and an expulsion was recommended and upheld on appeal, the suit said. But after student submitted a second appeal, the university hired a law firm that could not conclude their sexual relations were not consensual.
The student, named John Doe in the suit, was allowed to continue living in the same dorm as the victims.
“Michigan State University’s investigation process has caused me harm and delivered me absolutely no justice,” Gross said, saying the school took more than eight months to investigate, well beyond a 90-day policy that has since been lowered to 60 days.
One of the unidentified women alleges that the school’s Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives lost medical evidence. The other says a student who was expelled after she reported that he raped her was allowed back on campus for his brother’s graduation, against her wishes.
The women, who sued in part under the federal gender discrimination law known as Title IX, are seeking unspecified monetary damages.
The University of California, Berkeley faces a similar suit from three current and former students, accusing officials of not doing enough to investigate their sexual assault claims and hand out punishment. A San Diego law firm representing the Berkeley students is co-counsel for the Michigan State students.
Defendants named in the MSU suit are the school’s board of trustees, President Lou Anna Simon, Vice President of Student Affairs Denise Maybank and the Kappa Sigma Fraternity, one of the places where Gross was allegedly assaulted. A message seeking comment was left with the fraternity.