By Sarah Mansheim
A federal judge has dismissed four counts of a sexual harassment lawsuit against the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine. Eight other counts remain in the pending lawsuit.
In an order issued on Aug. 11, U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger dismissed portions of the lawsuit brought by a former student who alleges the school grossly mishandled her complaint of sexual assault by another student in August 2012.
The suit was filed last January, and named WVSOM and its President Michael Adelman, and employees Leslie Bicksler and Elaine Soper, as defendants. The plaintiff voluntarily removed two other defendants, also WVSOM employees, from the suit last June.
According to the suit, the plaintiff was drugged and raped by another student after she had been drinking at an off-campus party they both attended.
The suit alleges that the school punished the plaintiff after she reported the assault, failed to collect critical evidence that she had been drugged, imposed a no contact order against her, prohibited her from discussing her case with friends, professors or a therapist, and breached confidentiality when staff members discussed the matter with each other and other students. The suit continues that the school eventually encouraged the plaintiff to leave WVSOM, leaving them in violation of Title IX requirements, which prohibits any sexual discrimination in any federally funded education program or activity.
Berger upheld portions of the suit, stating that “allegations support an inference that WVSOM engaged in the investigation with the intention of minimizing the incident, protecting the school’s reputation, and putting the incident behind the institution,” and that WVSOM, “after ignoring or even encouraging continued harassment, informed her that she could not be protected on campus and facilitated her withdrawal. If these allegations are ultimately supported by the evidence, they could constitute deliberate indifference.”
Berger also upheld portions of the lawsuit alleging violation of Title IX violations, invasion of privacy, prima facie negligence, charges of unauthorized practice of law by Adelman and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
According to the suit, the plaintiff was informed by Adelman that she did not need an attorney for an on-campus hearing; her alleged attacker had an attorney. On her request, the court continued the hearing where she appeared with counsel and obtained a two-year order of protection.
Dismissed were charges of WVSOM failing to train and supervise personnel on handling sexual assault, engaging in unconstitutional custom and practices and breach of contract. Other charges dismissed hinged on Berger’s assertion that “a public university is an arm of the state and not subject to suit” under liability law.
WVSOM responded to Berger’s ruling with a continued denial of all accusations and a demand for strict proof of each allegation by the plaintiff, and a trial by jury.