A Title IX lawsuit in Arkansas was settled recently and, because of the state's relaxed public information laws, the details of the settlement were made public. They give an inside peek into how sexual misconduct claims against schools can be resolved, and raise important questions about the role of public information statutes in Title IX cases.
Southern Arkansas University Sued Under Title IX
The plaintiff in the lawsuit claimed that she was sexually assaulted while a student at Southern Arkansas University (SAU) back in 2015. According to the lawsuit, she was “forcibly groped” – she was having a consensual sexual encounter with one student when that student's friend assaulted her. She claimed that the assault was a setup and that both students conspired to do it.
When she reported the encounter to SAU, though, she claims that she was met with “deliberate indifference” and that the school:
- Didn't have a grievance procedure that complied with Title IX requirements,
- Failed to provide any interim safety measures,
- Didn't tell the student her rights and options, and
- Didn't inform her of her rights against retaliation.
She transferred to another school after the assault and filed the lawsuit three years after the alleged incident.
School Settles Claim, Public Information Laws Reveal Details
Like many Title IX claims against academic institutions, this one was settled outside of the courtroom. On January 9, 2020, both the student and SAU asked the court to dismiss the case because they had come to an agreement.
In most Title IX settlements, that would be the end of the story. Settlements are sealed and kept confidential. There are often serious penalties if either side in the agreement breaks that confidentiality.
In Arkansas, though, there is a robust public information law that allows far more access to government records – including settlements made by state agencies. Included in those state agencies are public colleges and universities in the state.
According to those documents, the settlement included:
- A $55,000 payment to the student, made by SAU's insurance company,
- Up to $5,000 in legal expenses accumulated by the student in the case, also paid by SAU's insurance company,
- No admission of wrongdoing by SAU,
- A promise by SAU to publish an article in the student newspaper with information about Title IX, students' rights under the law, and the Title IX process, and
- An agreement by the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights to dismiss a complaint that the alleged victim had filed with them over the incident.
Joseph D. Lento: National Title IX Advisor and Defense Lawyer
It's unclear whether settlement disclosures like this one help or hurt the Title IX process. On the one hand, it publicizes settlements and gives an idea of how cases tend to get resolved. On the other hand, victims with weak cases may get encouraged by the possibility of a monetary settlement and file a Title IX claim to pressure schools into settling.