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Duke sued for mishandling sexual assault investigation



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On August 25, the University filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit and a motion to seal pertinent documents—including the report by investigator Celia Irvine and a letter from the Office of Institutional Equity. 

The motion to dismiss claims Duke's response to the allegations was not "deliberately indifferent" during its investigation and that no constitutional rights were violated. The motion to seal documents claims an "abundance of caution" under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act as reason not to make the documents public. 

Original story:

A former Duke student has filed a Title IX lawsuit against the University, alleging the school mishandled her sexual misconduct complaint.

The plaintiff alleges that she was subject to “a drug-facilitated rape” by two other students, one of whom is the stepson of former Provost Peter Lange, and that she reported the assault to University officials and the Duke Police Department. The gender-discrimination lawsuit also alleges that around the same time, other students made reports to the University that both men engaged in sexual misconduct with other “similarly isolated and incapacitated women.” 

The only sanction the University took in response to the plaintiff's and other students' reports was putting Lange’s step-son on probation, according to the suit.

“Duke does not comment on pending litigation,” wrote Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, in an email. “What we can say that the well-being of all our students is Duke’s highest priority. We follow a careful process when a sexual misconduct allegation is made, one that ensures we are responsive, thorough and fair as federal law and our own policies require.”

According to the lawsuit, the Office of Student Conduct hired Celia Irvine, an independent psychologist, to investigate the multiple claims. Her report, the complaint alleges, concealed evidence of “drug-facilitated” sexual assault.

“The purpose of Ms. Irvine’s report was to fabricate a basis for the University to not suspend, expel or remove [one of the accused students] from the University,” the complaint alleged.

Irvine had previously come under fire in the case of Lewis McLeod. McLeod was expelled for an alleged sexual assault and has since sued Duke for violating due process in his investigation. His lawsuit says that Irvine was “incompetent, capricious and lacked fundamental fairness” to investigate.

The Title IX lawsuit states that Duke Police investigators informed the University a felony had been committed, and that a video of the alleged assault had been taken.

After the University only put one of the accused students on probation July 12, 2013, the plaintiff complained to the Office of Institutional Equity, according to the suit. The OIE later issued a decision which concluded that the University's response was "sufficient to remedy the hostile educational environment that Plaintiff suffered as a result" and "sufficient to meet its obligations under Title IX," the suit read.

It also states that "the individuals involved in determining the University's response to the reports and evidence of [one of the student's] sexual misconduct were all subordinates of [one of the student's] stepfather."

Bob Ekstrand, the attorney for the plaintiff, filed the case in Durham County in the state court Aug. 1. Following this, Duke’s lawyers requested the case be moved to federal court Aug. 9 because Title IX lawsuits are of a federal nature.

Ekstrand has previously represented members of the Duke lacrosse team, after several players were accused of sexually assaulting an exotic dancer during a party in 2006.

According to a report in the Durham Herald Sun, Lange referred any questions to his lawyer, Durham attorney Kerry Sutton, who also represented a lacrosse player in 2006. Sutton told the Herald Sun that any underlying “conspiracy theory” has “no basis in fact.”

The Chronicle reported in January that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights had initiated the investigation of a “Title IX complaint filed by a Duke student."

The OCR has not released the name of the student in that particular complaint.

Check back for updates on this developing story.


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