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NKU’s Lexington lawyers file reply to ‘Jane Doe’ complaint about her sexual assault in dorm room

NKU students hold peaceful demonstration last fall to protest the university's sexual abuse policies

NKU students hold peaceful demonstration last fall to protest the university’s sexual abuse policies

NKyTribune Staff Report

Northern Kentucky University has filed a response to a complaint by “Jane Doe” (female student) over a “sexual abuse” incident in a campus dorm.

“Jane Doe” filed a 19-page lawsuit in January in Campbell County Circuit Court, naming NKU Pres. Geoffrey S. Mearns; NKU Police Chief Les Kachurek; Kathleen Roberts, senior advisor to the President and Title IX coordinator; and Ann James, Senior Associate Dean of Students and Deputy Title IX Coordinator.

A response was filed yesterday on behalf of these defendants by two attorneys with the Lexington law firm, Sturgill, Turner, Baker, & Maloney. Their response was addressed to the U.S. District Court Eastern District Northern Division in Covington. Attorneys Katherine M. Coleman and Joshua M. Salsburey are both graduates of the University of Kentucky College of Law.

The response asks that the claims be “dismissed with prejudice,” (note: this means it can never be filed again) and that the university be awarded reasonable attorney fees and “any and all relief” it may be entitled to.

The 18-page response also takes exception to a number of the allegations in the suit, including:

That the neither the student nor her parents were informed of sexual assaults on campus or made aware of its “dated policies and procedures.”

The university’s response: “Plaintiff and/or her parents were provided with information concerning sexual assault on NKU’s campus as a part of Freshmen Orientation and was advised of NKU’s policies concerning sexual assault, which policies are published and readily available to Plaintiff, her parents, and the public through NKU’s website” and that the university also publishes crime statistics on its website.

It further states that the student was informed of “policies and procedures” at the time of her “notice of sexual assault to NKU and through the investigation and hearing process.”

That Doe was assaulted and raped by a Northern Kentucky University student.

The university’s response: The student notified the university of her sexual assault by “another NKU student (Student M) nine months prior to the date she reported the assault.”

That universities around the country have “advised students to stay within their inadequate systems of handling sexual assault matters” to avoid publicity that would affect admissions.

The university’s response: “Expressly denied,” stating that the student was advised of “policies and procedures” and of her right to file a formal complaint with NKU and initiate an investigation, and her option “to file a criminal complaint with the police” in addition to the internal complaint. They further state that “no victim” is required or can be compelled to file a criminal complaint.

That the internal hearing panel found “it was more probable than not” that Doe was telling the truth but that the university “did next to nothing” to protect her from “further anxiety and harassment.” The complaint goes on to detail Doe’s views of her experiences related to “Student M’s” lack of “punishment.”

The University’s response: “Deny that the panel found that she was “telling the truth” or “had been assaulted as described” but that it found it “more likely than not that Student M engaged in sexual misconduct/non-consensual sexual intercourse,” in violation of NKU Housing Policies and Student Code of Conduct.”

The response also says that “sanctions imposed against Student M” were made in “good faith” and in accordance with policy and procedure and were enforced. And that Doe has “at all times” had the right to raise concerns and could appeal. “Plaintiff made no appeal.”

Allegations that Student M was permitted access to the dining facility used by Doe are not accurate, says the University’s response. Because of renovations to the other full service dining facility, Student M was directed not to use the Norse Commons dining facility “during those hours identified by (Doe) for her use.” The response says that the No Contact Order was in place and that their investigations into Doe’s complaints revealed no violation.

Later in the document, the university states that Student M’s subsequent election as president of a fraternity on campus is irrelevant to imposition of sanctions.

That the student and her parents were met “with indifference” in a meeting with President Mearns.

The university’s response: President Mearns expressed “concern and empathy for the Plaintiff and her family.”

“President Mearns, in accordance with NKU policy and procedure, has no direct involvment in sexual assault investigations, hearings, appeals or sanctions.”

That an email circulated by campus Police Chief Les Kachurek was intimidating to Doe and attempted to violate her First Amendment rights regarding a peaceful protest on campus.

The university’s response: The university challenges the characterization of the email and denies related allegations.

That a letter from the university’s “outside counsel” (Katherine Coleman) threatened Doe that if she filed a lawsuit, the university “will expose all records related to this incident in support of its defense.”

The university’s response: The complaint “intentionally misstates and mischaracterizes the communication . . .for inflammatory purposes.” The university denies the allegations.

That Doe has been a victim of exclusion of education programs or activities, effectively denied equal access, has been shown deliberate indifference, has been subject to harrassment, has suffered lose of educational opportunities and been subjected to emotional distress, and that NKU failed to protect her.

The university response: Denial of all allegations and makes reference to “Plaintiff’s “prior false public accusations.”

“The University Defendants affirmatively state that they carried out their obligations in good faith pursuant to University policy and procedure and all applicable federal and or state statutes, regulations and guidance,” says the response.

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In further defense of the suit, the University claims the “Plaintiff may have failed to mitigate any and all of her alleged damages and/or aggravated same by her own actions or inactions.”

Kevin Murphy, the attorney for Jane Doe, has asked for a trial by jury, a declaratory judgment and for statutory attorney fees and costs.

The university’s counsel is asking that claims be dismissed, that the University Defendants be awarded costs, including reasonable attorney fees, and for “any and all relief to which the Defendants may be entitled.”

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To read both legal documents in full:

NKU Doe Response

Doe NKU Complaint

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You may also be interested in the NKyTribune’s earlier story on the student’s complaint:

NKU student files suit against the university

Student protests by carrying mattress on her back

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  1. Jon Doe says:

    I am a graduate student at NKU and I care about this university. I am sad and sick to see what the administration and President Mearns have done to my school. They fail to support their students, they exploit us and raise tuition, and when something very bad happens here they try to hide it. No one wants to talk about this situation and other problems related to sexual violence on campus because they are afraid. What can we do to get help and remove Mearns and his cronies???

  2. Faculty Doe says:

    Jon Doe, I’ve got some advice for you, but first a word of caution too.

    Like you, I did not think it is wise to post this under my real name, even though I am a tenured faculty member at NKU. Let me tell you why – those faculty who have spoken up have been the subject of bogus investigations, forced from administrative roles and much worse, (even as the University covers up what appear to be very real and very sick problems).

    At least we can all take heart in the knowledge that the administration is spending hard earned tax dollars defending itself against multiple allegations, which all stem from the allegation that a male student had “non-consensual sex” with a female student in her dorm room. Oh wait, the administration at NKU already admitted that “most likely” happened. It’s just that they don’t like how things are shaking out now. Time to lawyer up; spend those tax dollars hand over fist. Our budget’s in great shape, there is money to burn.

    So Jon Doe, if you speak up – alone – you do so at your own risk; believe me.

    The problem is that the faculty – and apparently now – caring students like you, are scared to criticize our administration for fear of retribution. As I’ve just noted though, that is a very real concern.

    If faculty and students united, and if the Faculty Senate and Student Government decided to join forces – to demand that the Board of Regents at NKU take action against our administration- then – and most likely only then, would we see the changes that are needed to get our beloved University back on track.

    As things stand now, there is no way that I would ever send a child of mine to NKU, especially if I had daughters.

    Yet, there is a glimmer of hope here, and that may be found in a recent survey conducted by the Faculty Senate a few weeks ago. It sought to discover the depths to which faculty morale has sunk on campus. Only a fool wouldn’t wager on it being lower than it has ever been.

    Additionally, and setting aside the thick irony that I used above, our budget is ruined, despite the fact that President Mearns has tried to make it appear otherwise. But good, open and honest leadership rather than micro-managing Nixonian paranoia, denials and cover-ups, would get us through these tough times.

    This administration is, I’m afraid, beyond redemption. Change is necessary, and fast, before our University’s reputation is tarnished for a generation.

    Jim Votruba must be heart-sick over all of this. Maybe he would come back for a year as we search for a new President?

    It doesn’t hurt to hope.

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