Michigan State loses bid to kill suit alleging rape by athletes

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
The Beaumont Tower on Michigan State University's East Lansing campus.

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that it is reasonable to believe Michigan State University actively discouraged a rape victim’s complaints and investigations of her allegations.

Because it is plausible the school practiced a policy of attempting to conceal allegations rather than enforce laws and rules, the woman’s suit against Michigan State may continue, U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney ruled.

The school retains the right to move later to have the claims dismissed before trial, Maloney said.

“The Court finds that the allegations in Plaintiff’s complaint render plausible her claim that MSU maintained official policies that left her and other female students vulnerable to sexual assault by male athletes,” Maloney wrote in a 22-page ruling.

His decision keeps alive a suit filed against MSU by Bailey Kowalski, who accuses three Spartan basketball players of sexually assaulting her in April 2015. Kowalski filed her complaint anonymously and is identified as "Jane Doe" in Wednesday's ruling, but earlier this year she publicly accused the school of discouraging her from reporting the rape.

The woman said she has received “intensive psychiatric treatment,” including counseling and medication, according to the ruling.

Maloney said she has provided sufficient support for her assertion that “MSU allowed reports of sexual assault to be handled ‘off-line’ by the Athletic Department and outside the normal channels of Title IX investigations.”

Referring to facts asserted by the woman, Maloney said the information meets a standard of believability to allow the case to continue.

He rejected motions by Michigan State to dismiss the complaints, saying that for purposes of the motions, the law required him to accept the woman’s offering of facts as true.

“The attempts to cover up or otherwise obfuscate the University’s handling of sexual assault reports made against male athletes, the attempts to conceal the names of prominent male athletes when mentioned in police reports, and the attempts to discourage female victims from reporting their own assaults all tend to show that sexual assaults by male athletes were handled in ways that would minimize scrutiny and potential punishment for such acts,” Maloney said.

Further, if the women’s allegations are supported at trial, the judge said, “it may be that Michigan State University knew it had handled the investigation improperly by allegedly misrepresenting the actual circumstances of the decision to the Office of Civil Rights.

“Such a misrepresentation would be powerful evidence of an illicit official policy since it goes directly to the Office of the President and the Athletic Department,” he said.

Kowalski said she was raped and possibly drugged by three basketball players she has not identified on April 11, 2015.

In attempting to have her legal claim under Title IX of federal education law dismissed, the school argued she failed to demonstrate that “an official MSU policy” helped cause the alleged sexual assault.

Throughout the decision, the judge cites a narrative of the alleged assault and how officials treated the woman afterwards. The details were offered by the woman, an 18-year-old freshman at the time of the alleged rape.

When a friend took the woman to the MSU Counseling Center nine days after the alleged assault, Kowalski said when it became clear the allegations were against varsity basketball players, the counselor announced someone else also needed to be in the room.

When the other person arrived, attitudes about the alleged assault changed, and Kowalski was never told who the other individual was or what necessitated the person’s presence, she said.

The woman said the person told her to file a police report or deal with the alleged rape “on her own.”

Officials made clear she would be subjected to media scrutiny and odds were against her achieving justice if she reported the allegations to police, she said.

The woman said the officials asserted they had “many other students in the same situation” and that after they reported allegations, “it has been very traumatic for them.”

Kowalski said there was talk about going up against “guys with big names,” when the important thing was to “just get yourself better.”

The woman said she became too frightened to report the assault.

She said counselors did not advise her to receive testing for pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease.

Meanwhile, continuing to see her alleged attackers around campus, Kowalski said she panicked and had flashbacks. Six months after the alleged assault, she was admitted to an outpatient psychiatric day program for intensive treatment, and she left school.

The woman also offered details that she said were from the cases of four other women whose complaints about sexual assaults at the hand of athletes were deflected by Michigan State officials.

A trial will more fully test the substance of the assertions and allegations, the judge said. But it is too early in the process to dismiss the claims now.

“The Court can draw inferences which lead to the conclusion that Plaintiff may plausibly establish the existence of an official policy or custom, and that the custom bore a causal relationship to the assault she suffered,” Maloney said in the ruling.

“While MSU is free to revisit these arguments at summary judgment — once discovery has been taken and the Plaintiff has a chance to present evidence supporting her case — they do not warrant dismissal at this early juncture.”