Posted by Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Fitzgerald & Pirrotti, P.C. in News
Jul 18 2014
The University of Connecticut will pay nearly $1.3 million to settle a lawsuit brought forward by five sexual assault victims, the school and the women’s attorney announced Friday, but it will not admit to wrongdoing in the cases.
The lawsuit, filed against UConn on Nov. 1 by high-profile attorney Gloria Allred and co-counsel Nina Pirrotti, came days after four of the women filed two federal complaints to the Department of Education. UConn was accused of mishandling rape cases and refusing to condemn or intervene on reported harassment of female students, in violation of the gender equity law Title IX.
UConn is one of 67 higher education institutions currently under review by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights due to its handling of sexual assault cases.
According to the terms of the settlement, plaintiffs Carolyn Luby, Kylie Angell, Rosemary Richi, Erica Daniels and Silvanna Monccia will not make any written or oral statements about UConn that disparages the university or encourages others to portray it in a negative light. Luby, Angell and Richi will also request the suspension of the two complaints they filed with the Education Department, and Daniels will join the request to suspend one of them.
UConn “categorically denies the lawsuit’s allegation” that the university demonstrated a “deliberate indifference” toward the women, a spokeswoman said Friday.
“All parties agreed that achieving closure on the past and moving forward is more important than battling for vindication in the courts,” UConn General Counsel Richard Orr said in a statement. “The settlement will allow the plaintiffs to move on with their lives, and will allow the University to focus on its mission, which includes serving our students the best we possibly can, each and every day.”
A joint statement released by the plaintiffs and UConn noted a trial would have meant years spent “fighting over the past rather than working on the future.”
Education Department spokeswoman Dorie Nolt said the Office for Civil Rights will continue to investigate “whether the university responded promptly and effectively to complaints and other information related to sexual violence and sexual harassment that may have subjected students to a sexually hostile environment.”
“As this is an open investigation, the office cannot provide any additional information,” Nolt said.
Following the complaint and lawsuit, UConn began reviewing steps it could take to improve its response to sexual assault and harassment on campus. It established a new assistant dean to support victims of crime, centralized its response to sexual violence, formed a special victims unit with campus police and enhanced educational programming on bystander intervention. UConn said Friday it further plans to “develop and refine” its sexual violence education and bystander training.
The terms of the settlement laid out how much money each plaintiff will receive:
Silvanna Monccia will receive $900,000, the bulk of the settlement. Monccia was a female hockey player who said she was raped by a male hockey player in 2011. According to the lawsuit, Monccia said the coach removed her from the hockey team after the assault, telling her she was not “stable enough” and would “bring the team down.”
Kylie Angell will receive $115,000. The student Angell said sexually assaulted her was expelled by the university, but he was then allowed back on campus and Angell was not notified about it. When she reported the assault to campus police, Angell says an officer commented, “women need to stop spreading their legs like peanut butter or rape is going to keep on happening ‘til the cows come home.” UConn’s police department has said the officer in question does not remember ever making that statement.
Erica Daniels will receive $125,000, and Rosemary Richi will receive $60,000. Both Daniels and Richi said UConn dropped investigations into their sexual assaults due to lack of information, but the women insisted the school didn’t fully pursue witnesses and the evidence they presented.
Carolyn Luby will receive $25,000. She wrote an op-ed criticizing the new UConn logo for reinforcing rape culture, and was subsequently harassed online and on campus, even getting bashed by right-wing radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh. Luby said the university declined to intervene in the matter, and campus police simply told her to keep a low profile and wear a hat on campus. The university’s Friday statement notes that in response to the harassment, the school launched a Civility Task Force to assess the campus climate.