Eastern Michigan, women and men alleging coverup of sexual assault to enter mediation

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Eastern Michigan University has agreed to enter into mediation with two dozen current and former studentswho allege in lawsuits that the college failed them after they reported sexual assaults.

The suits, filed in March in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, began with 10 women but grew to 24 people, including one man. All allege that they were sexually assaulted and when they brought their complaints to university police or the school's Title IX office, the assaults were covered up.

EMU spokeswoman Melissa Thrasher said in an email Tuesday that court officials discussed, "the option of engaging in a round of mediation with plaintiffs at this stage, and we have agreed to participate."

Thrasher did not directly address why EMU agreed to enter mediation. She added that a timeline for mediation has not been established.

Eastern Michigan University students during a march through campus demanding the suspension or removal of two fraternities in light of sexual assaults in Ypsilanti on Sept. 16, 2021. EMU has agreed to enter into mediation with two dozen current and former students who allege in lawsuits that the college failed them after they reported sexual assaults.

Attorney Todd Flood, who is representing all 24 people, confirmed the mediation process and said any settlement that might emerge would be shared by those who have filed lawsuits and about eight other people who hadn't filed yet.

The Board of Regents in its response to the lawsuits said the university could have provided more help if the students had either reported the sexual assaults or participated in proceedings against the alleged assailants. 

In September 2020, EMU hired Philadelphia law firm Cozen O’Connor to review and audit the university’s Title IX procedures and related policies and actions. A report was expected in spring 2021 but Thrasher said the investigation is still ongoing. 

"The independent review by Cozen O'Connor remains underway and has not been presented to the University and therefore is not a factor in the action related to mediation," Thrasher said.

Named as defendants in the lawsuits are EMU, the school's Board of Regents, EMU police, former EMU Title IX Director Melody Werner, who left EMU for a job in Michigan State University's Office of Institutional Equity in 2019 but has since retired, Kyle Martin, former Greek Life coordinator for the college and now vice president of campus operations at the North American Interfraternity Conference; school Police Chief Robert Heighes and former Deputy Chief Daniel Karrick.

In December, 10 women reached a settlement with the Delta Tau Delta fraternity over allegations a series of sexual assaults took place on or near campus involving the Greek organization.

The city of Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit have asked a judge to order Eastern Michigan University fraternity Delta Tau Delta to temporarily halt all parties and complete sexual assault and alcohol awareness training in the wake of more than a dozen sexual assaults officials say are tied to the organization.

Flood said that a settlement in a lawsuit filed against the Theta Chi fraternity appears imminent but discussions are still underway in lawsuits brought against the Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity and the Sigma Kappa sorority.

In October, facing pressure from students to ban Alpha Sigma Phi and Delta Tau Delta following the allegations of sexual assaults on and near campus, the university started reviewing the Greek life organizations.

Alpha Sigma Phi is no longer associated with the school, officials announced Monday. Officials with the fraternity's national group said they were willing to participate but the university failed to address member concerns about the process.

"It appears that this organization review process was a ploy by the University to take attention away from the apparent failures of the Title IX office to support the survivors of sexual assault at Eastern Michigan," Gordy Heminger, president and CEO Alpha Sigma Phi, said at the time in an email.

The review of Delta Tau Delta remains underway, Thrasher said.

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com