Robinette

The University responded last week to two civil rights complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Education by seniors Justin Robinette and Cliff Satell.

The two complaints, which were filed with the Department of Education early this Fall, allege that the University discriminates on the basis of sex and race. Jim Bradshaw, who works in the Department of Education press office, confirmed that both cases are “under investigation.”

Cliff Satell

Robinette claimed in April that he was impeached from his former position as Duke College Republicans chair because he is gay. Robinette later filed three cases of discrimination against the Duke College Republicans with the Duke Student Government Judiciary, which did not rule in his favor in any case.

Robinette and Satell, former club vice chair, have since maintained that University administrators failed to take action despite claims of harassment.

“I trusted that [the Office of Student Conduct] would not succumb to the institutional deafness that permeates every corner of the Administration,” Satell wrote in an Aug. 4 e-mail to the Office of Student Conduct obtained by The Chronicle.

Robinette confirmed that he filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Education, but did not wish to be quoted in this article. Satell confirmed that he filed one complaint with the Department of Education, but declined to comment further.

Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, confirmed that Duke responded to these complaints last week. He added that, on average, the University receives one to two complaints from the U.S. Department of Education “every other year.”

The first complaint, filed Sept. 13, claims that Duke did not “take prompt and appropriate action in response to complaints of retaliatory sexual harassment,” and that “the University failed to take prompt and appropriate action in response to a complaint of [a] racially hostile environment,” Bradshaw wrote in an e-mail.

The second complaint, filed Oct. 13, reiterates the University’s failure to act on “complaints of peer sexual harassment” on the basis of sex and “alleges that an employee of the school subjected the complainant to a sexually hostile environment.”

The Office of Civil Rights will serve as a “neutral fact-finder” in the cases and analyze evidence from all parties involved in the case to develop its findings, Bradshaw said.

Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta referred all comment to Schoenfeld. Stephen Bryan, associate dean of students and director of the Office of Student Conduct, declined to comment.

In a Sept. 15 e-mail sent to senior and Duke Student Government President Mike Lefevre, Moneta expressed his view that the administration has handled the case appropriately.

“The Office of Student Conduct has been diligent in its analysis and conclusions and that individuals who have strived to offer support, care and comfort are being so vilified disappoints me greatly,” Moneta wrote. “Every member of the Duke administration who has had a part to play in this situation has acted with deep concern for defense of our principles, of our students and of our community.”

If the U.S. Department of Education decides to pursue the case, it will submit a “resolution agreement” to Duke outlining the areas that the institution should address to be in compliance with civil rights laws, Bradshaw said. The Office will then monitor the school’s implementation of the agreement, he added.

The Office for Civil Rights’ investigations typically conclude within six months of the case’s opening, Bradshaw said, noting that the complaint is not a court case.