University News

Woman sues Brown, deans after alleged sexual assault

Court documents stress inadequate, inequitable, untimely response to sexual assault report

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, November 17, 2016

A former Providence College student filed a lawsuit Monday against Brown University and two deans who were both employed by the school at the time of her alleged sexual assault in November 2013. The suit claims that the University violated Title IX in its response to the complaints presented by the plaintiff, who goes by Jane Doe in court documents in order to protect her identity.

“My client has been waiting a very long time for justice to be served,” wrote Wendy Murphy, Doe’s lawyer, in an email to The Herald. “I’ve been involved in Title IX litigation for 25 years, and I’ve seen firsthand how frequently women victims of violence on college campuses are denied due process.”

“Brown takes every allegation of sexual misconduct seriously, including the allegations made by Jane Doe,” wrote Brian Clark, director of news and editorial development, in an email to The Herald. “We are confident in the decisions made at Brown related to Jane Doe’s allegations, and we will respond as appropriate through the legal process,” he added.

The incident and investigation

This action follows the 2014 investigation of the incident, and the decision by a grand jury not to indict the football players.

Doe met two Brown football players at Louie’s tavern, where she had one shot of alcohol. The police report stated that she felt “drugged” and “her arms and body felt limp,” the Providence Journal reported.

One of the football players brought her from the bar into a taxi that took them to a Brown dorm. There, three Brown students — all members of the football team — sexually assaulted her “over an extended period of time,” according to court documents.

Doe sought medical aid, reported the incident to the Providence Police Department and filed a complaint with Providence College, which banned two of the Brown students from its campus.

As part of the Providence Police Department investigation in spring 2014, cell phones of the three Brown students were seized. One revealed a text message from the morning after the alleged assault saying “yo like classic (student C) tho … no invite just walks in and starts raping her,” according to court documents. Another phone held explicit photographs of Doe and one of the Brown students taken at the time of the alleged assault.

Brown asked the two students at the center of the investigation to leave campus in April 2014, and they were eventually dismissed from the football team. One of the students connected to the assault withdrew from the University, but the other two returned to campus in the fall, The Herald previously reported. Castillo-Appollonio informed Doe that the University would lead an “inquiry” to determine if any of the three students connected to her case violated Brown’s Code of Student Conduct. This occurred more than seven months after Doe reported to University officials that she had been sexually assaulted, according to the documents.

Doe repeatedly requested “response and redress pursuant to Title IX” but was informed by the defendants that Brown would “proceed with its inquiry only under the student disciplinary code,” according to court documents. This led Doe to file a complaint against Brown with the Office for Civil Rights, which was accepted and is still pending.

After Doe requested an update April 2016, Brown informed her that an investigation had not been completed, and there would be no disciplinary action toward the three Brown students connected to her case, according to court documents.

The case

The suit names two defendants in addition to the University: Jonah Allen Ward, who was the senior associate dean of student life when the incident occurred, and Yolanda Castillo-Appollonio, associate dean of student life, director of student conduct and vice president of campus life and student services. Both deans were “responsible for initiating and overseeing University response and redress to acts of sex-based discrimination,” according to court documents.

The five counts listed in the court documents allege violations of Title IX, the Rhode Island Civil Rights Act and the Rhode Island Constitution. Brown’s policies on sexual assault “deviated substantively from the Title IX standards,” according to court documents.

“Brown has segregated out only sex-based harms for second-class redress under second-class policies,” wrote Wendy Murphy, Doe’s lawyer, in an email to The Herald. She hopes this case will lead Brown to revoke its policy and establish an “equitable” policy that treats issues of sexual misconduct in the same way it handles issues of “assaults based on other protected class categories, such as race and national origin.”

“Framing sexual assault as a women’s civil rights issue will help ensure that victims are treated as fully equal campus citizens,” Murphy wrote, “while sending a strong message to all students that violence against a single woman is also an offense against the entire Brown community.”

The suit also alleges that Doe did not receive a “prompt and equitable grievance hearing, which subjected her to a hostile education environment and denied her access to educational opportunities,” according to court documents. The University told Doe June 21 that it “never completed any investigation and that it had abandoned all disciplinary action against the three Brown University football players accused of sexually assaulting Ms. Doe.” Because of this lack of “effective response, … Doe was forced to withdraw from Providence College.”

In addition, as a result “of the defendants’ actions and inactions, Doe was in fear for her safety and well being on campus … because Brown students and/or associates of the men who assaulted her were not prohibited from being near her or contacting her and her friends,” according to court documents.

“The defendants violated state and federal law both before and after Ms. Doe was sexually assaulted, acted with deliberate indifference, (and) failed to promptly and effectively investigate and respond to the assault,” according to court documents.

The suit requests that the court grant compensatory damages to cover Doe’s “injuries, damages and losses,” including mental and physical injuries, damage to her education and “loss of enjoyment of life.” It asks for a declaration that Brown’s sexual misconduct policy violates victim’s rights and does not comply with Title IX. It also requests an injunction requiring Brown to enforce Title IX when “severe or pervasive” sexual misconduct is reported.