Court allows trial of Dickinson College graduate to move forward on school’s handling of sexual assault report

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A former student’s lawsuit against Dickinson College could move forward in federal court after a new ruling was issued this week.

Rose McAvoy sued Carlisle College in July 2020, claiming officials mismanaged the investigation when she reported a sexual assault. In addition, she said the college did not punish her attacker enough.

The college responded in October by asking a federal judge to dismiss McAvoy’s trial, arguing it was “wireless” and lacking details that could lead to legal action.

While U.S. Intermediate District Senior Judge David Cercone has ruled in favor of dismissing one of McAvoy’s claims against the college, he wrote in his order on Tuesday that all of his other claims are plausible, denying the college’s attempt to have them rejected.

“I think this is a very big win for our client and for the case, allowing the case to move forward and continue,” said Gabrielle Vinci, one of McAvoy’s attorneys. “It’s an indication that the court sees something wrong with what Dickinson did.”

Dickinson College now has 20 days to respond as the parties prepare for a possible trial.

“We take sexual assault very seriously and work diligently to achieve a fair and equitable resolution of each case,” Dickinson College spokeswoman Christine Baski said Wednesday in response to the court ruling. “While we respect the court’s ruling on these preliminary issues, we remain confident that we will ultimately prevail on the merits.”

In her lawsuit, McAvoy said private college officials failed to properly and promptly investigate her sexual assault complaint and impose fair punishment on the student she accused of kissing her, immobilized and grabbing her breasts without her permission. .

Her lawsuit indicates that she thought she was in a platonic “hangout” with the student when he assaulted her in the fall of 2017.

She said that in the lawsuit, investigators did not notify the accused student of a “no contact” directive until five days after filing her complaint with the college and three days after their investigation began. The lawsuit further states that McAvoy was forced to attend college alongside the accused student during the delayed investigation, leaving her feeling unsafe and unable to participate in campus and social activities the two had shared.

After investigation, university officials imposed a semester of probation on the other student, who then withdrew from school.

McAvoy had previously told PennLive that she chose to file a complaint because university officials did not adequately deal with sexual assault on campus and did not honor the deal they made when she did. led a four-day sit-in at the university, demanding changes to the university’s response. to such reports.

The lawsuit brought by Dickinson College graduate Rose McAvoy could continue in federal court after a judge on Tuesday dismissed most of the college’s dismissal requests.

Dickinson College officials have previously said they have honored the letter of the agreement and were surprised and disappointed by McAvoy’s filing of the complaint.

And in the college’s motion asking the court to dismiss McAvoy’s lawsuit, their attorneys insisted the lawsuit was flawed because McAvoy did not list details that could lead to legal action.

The university argued that McAvoy reported the assault to university officials on November 7, 2017, about a week after the incident, and did not identify his assailant until December 6. Soon after, a no-contact order was issued prohibiting McAvoy and the man from interacting. , said the school.

Dickinson executives said McAvoy, the student and several witnesses were interviewed and the investigation was completed in May 2018. The college said it discovered the man sexually assaulted McAvoy and put him on probation .

In Tuesday’s order, the court found that McAvoy had a plausible claim for his allegations of violation of his Title IX rights, referring to federal law that prevents all forms of sex discrimination in education.

According to Tuesday’s court order, the judge found McAvoy’s allegations of the college’s ineffective enforcement of the no-contact order and the ineffective and untimely investigation of the assault resulted in an allegation plausible sexual harassment based on a hostile educational environment.

The court also concludes that the college’s five-month delay in resolving the sexual assault investigation and its inability to implement additional and / or more effective protective measures certainly made McAvoy vulnerable to further cases. of harassment, ”the judge wrote. “McAvoy did allege that the college’s’ response to harassment or lack of it [wa]is clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances.

The court also found McAvoy’s breach of contract allegations to be a plausible claim and allowed him to stay in the lawsuit.

However, the court sided with the college and denied McAvoy’s allegations of negligence, but his lawyers said it was not hurting the case and the court understood the main issues at play.

“This decision further indicates that Dickinson College has abdicated its responsibilities under Title IX and has shown a deliberate indifference to sexual assault on campus,” said Andrew Miltenberg, another lawyer representing McAvoy. “By continuing this lawsuit, Ms. McAvoy holds Dickinson College accountable and protects other students from the school’s willful indifference to sexual assault.”

PennLive does not normally identify those who claim to be victims of sexual assault, but McAvoy has already spoken to PennLive and agreed to be identified in this case.

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