A newly-dismissed Title IX lawsuit exemplifies the ongoing battle over institutional liability for student-on-student sexual misconduct. The invisible player in these cases, though, is the growing body of settlements that accused schools have offered in order to keep out of the courtroom. Those settlements are making it more difficult to defend against these allegations of institutional liability, all while increasing the number of lawsuits that are being filed, claiming this very type of liability.
Title IX Claim Against the University of Arizona After Running Back's Guilty Plea
The University of Arizona has faced a pair of Title IX lawsuits from two female undergraduates over alleged sexual misconduct from one of the school's running backs on the football team.
According to the lawsuits, in September 2016, Orlando Bradford had sexually abused one of the women for a period of several months, and had held the other woman against her will in his apartment and physically abused her over the course of several days. The second woman called the police after her incident. The next day, the first woman came forward with her allegations.
Bradford was immediately kicked off the football team. In September, he pleaded guilty to two counts of domestic violence and was sentenced to between 2 and 7.5 years in jail. Immediately after his guilty plea, the two women filed Title IX lawsuits against the University of Arizona, claiming that the school had negligently and intentionally inflicted emotional distress, and had deprived them of an education free from gender discrimination. They demanded that the school be held institutionally liable.
Federal Court Dismisses One Lawsuit
The federal court hearing the cases dismissed the one brought by the woman who first called the police after being held in Bradford's apartment. She had claimed that the University should be held liable because it knew that Bradford was a threat to women after receiving similar allegations against him from others.
However, the court dismissed the case because the woman failed to present any evidence that the school had control over Bradford at his off-campus apartment at the time of the incidents.
The Title IX claim brought by the other victim is on the way to trial.
How Settlements Interfere With Other Cases
Institutional liability for Title IX violations is one of the most controversial aspects of the law because it lets alleged victims recover monetary compensation from colleges if the school doesn't take “appropriate action” after being notified of sexual misconduct. Many of these cases, like this one, claim that the school knew someone posed a threat and should have done more to prevent them from acting, again.
Schools know that they could face hundreds of thousands of dollars of liability if a court finds against them and that their name will be tarnished even if they are cleared. Many of the schools facing these lawsuits are settling them out of court, like Michigan State, Eastern Michigan, and Southern Arkansas University, to name just a few.
The problem with settling these claims is that it tells alleged victims that it can pay to come forward. While some of those who do come forward will have legitimate cases, others will not. Schools, however, will have to defend against them all.