One step closer to justice: a federal court has ruled that a jury trial must be held to determine whether VanderCook College of Music violated Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 in responding to female student’s report of an off-campus sexual assault by a male classmate. Jeff and his law firm represent the student.
The ruling denied a motion filed by VanderCook seeking to dismiss the case without a jury trial by arguing the evidence was not sufficient to let a jury hear the claim. However, the court ruled a jury could find the evidence proved the student’s claims. Now, she will have her day in court and a jury will decide if VanderCook violated federal law.
VanderCook is a postsecondary music education school in Chicago and claims to be the only educational institution in the nation focusing exclusively on training music teachers.
In the lawsuit, the student alleged she was sexually assaulted by a male classmate at an off-campus party prior to beginning her sophomore year at VanderCook. According to the complaint, after she reported the assault to school officials, VanderCook and its administrators were deliberately indifferent towards her allegations and the on-going harassment she experienced on-campus in violation of Title IX.
Title IX protects against discrimination based on sex in educational institutions. In cases of reported sexual assault, school officials have the responsibility of determining whether the assault took place and preventing any on-campus harassment, among other things. When a school knows about harmful sexual harassment, it must “take immediate action to eliminate the sexual harassment or sexual violence, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects,” according to the U.S. Department of Education.
According to the lawsuit, VanderCook administrators investigated the student’s report of sexual assault. However, VanderCook’s Dean of Students stated she allegedly could not determine whether the sexual assault occurred due to conflicting accounts from the female and male students involved in the incident, each with their own subjective “truth.” The Dean testified in a deposition that she decided there were “two truths” regarding whether the sexual assault occurred.
However, in private e-mails, the Dean stated the student “was sexually assaulted” and that she believed her “100%.” In a meeting, the Dean allegedly said the student’s assailant was “guilty, but not guilty” of committing sexual assault.
Other evidence suggested that, following the investigation, VanderCook’s administrators chose to prioritize “moving forward” and “beginning the healing process” rather than imposing sufficient disciplinary measures against the student’s assailant. The student alleged that, despite issuing a “no contact” order against the assailant, VanderCook administrators did not enforce it. As a result, she was forced to regularly encounter her assailant on-campus following the school’s knowledge that he was guilty of sexual misconduct.
The court stated that, based on the evidence, a jury could find that “VanderCook had control over the circumstances of the off-campus sexual assault, that the assault constituted harassment of which VanderCook had knowledge, and that VanderCook’s response to the assault was deliberately indifferent” to the student’s civil rights. Based on the evidence, “a jury could conclude that, once it became apparent that the no-contact order was not working, VanderCook’s failure to take additional steps was clearly unreasonable based on its knowledge that the response was ineffective to remedy the harassment.”
A court hearing is set for August 10, 2023 to set the trial date.
The case was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Case No. 2019 C 5683.
Do you think you have been harassed for reporting sexual misconduct? Contact Jeff.
Read more about the case here:
NOTICE: The information contained in this post comes from allegations made in a legal complaint which was filed in the public record with the court. Please note that this is a contested matter. As a result, it is expected that the allegations will be opposed or denied by other parties and the court has not ruled one way or the other as of the date of this statement.