Lawyers: MSU not liable in alleged sex assault
Michigan State University should not be included in a student’s legal action over an alleged sexual assault involving basketball players since the incident was off-campus and school counselors she told weren't obligated to report what happened, MSU lawyers argue.
“Plaintiff has every right to pursue appropriate criminal and civil remedies against the students who assaulted her. Plaintiff, however, cannot show that MSU is responsible for criminal actions that did not occur on its campus,” the attorneys wrote in a filing this week. “Nor can she fault MSU’s conduct after the assault where she never told any MSU employees who were in a position to take action, and she never requested any remedies from MSU that were not provided.”
The motion was the latest in litigation that the unidentified student filed in April in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. She claimed that after Duke University defeated MSU in the 2015 college basketball Final Four and the team returned to East Lansing, several players assaulted her following an invitation to a party.
The next week, a friend took the 18-year-old to the MSU counseling center, where staffers reportedly discouraged her from going to police, failed to outline options to inform the school Office of Institutional Equity, or describe the woman’s rights under Title IX, which prohibits educational programs from discriminating against someone on the basis of their gender, according to the lawsuit.
However, MSU’s legal team asserts that school counselors were not the proper agents to start seeking action in an alleged rape, citing university policy requiring employees, except for those identified as confidential sources, “to promptly report incidents of sexual harassment, sexual violence, sexual misconduct, stalking and relationship violence” to the Office of Institutional Equity and MSU police.
The counseling center, now within the school’s Counseling & Psychiatric Services, “is identified to students as a confidential resource, meaning that students can speak to a counselor privately, without the counselor reporting the information to others, including MSU’s administration or the police,” lawyers wrote in the court filing Monday.
The student's lawsuit contends officials did not tell her about a no-contact order to bar the alleged assailants from her dorm and the teen encountering them in the cafeteria there sparked panic as well as flashbacks.
But the school’s attorneys say the student “does not allege that she reported her concerns to MSU or that John Does 1-3 ever approached or harassed her again.” They also ask that a judge dismiss her complaint.
“While the conduct alleged is undoubtedly horrible, MSU cannot reasonably be held liable for damages resulting from the independent actions of its students which take place on private property over which it has no control,” the court filing said.
Reached Wednesday, Karen Truszkowski, the Lansing-based lawyer representing the student, rejected that response.
“The complaint speaks for itself. The victim did not report it to anyone else because she was discouraged to do so to the point that she was understandably and rightfully frightened about what would happen to her," she told The Detroit News. "We have seen historically what happens when victims and even witnesses come forward with these types of allegations against powerful entities. What 19 year-old would willingly take on this process against a powerful entity and their agents?”
The suit followed the high-profile Larry Nassar scandal as well as other sexual assault allegations against Spartan athletes.
This spring, three ex-MSU football players pleaded guilty to a reduced, archaic charge of seducing an unmarried woman and avoided jail time in an alleged sex assault reported in 2017.
Last year, football player Auston Robertson was dismissed from the team after being charged with allegedly forcing a woman to have sex with him in his apartment.
Some athletes also have claimed they were unfairly targeted after unproven allegations. Former football player Keith Mumphery recently sued the school, saying he was expelled based on a false report, which ended his NFL career.