Law Professors

Law prof's suit says she suffered PTSD because her school failed to stop harassment by student

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Title IX

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A former visiting law professor at Appalachian School of Law claims in a lawsuit that she was harassed by a law student, and the school’s probe of his conduct was “completely, and inexcusably, mismanaged.”

The suit by Hillary Lynne Burgess, filed last week in federal court, says the school violated Title IX, the federal law that protects students and employees from sex discrimination, harassment and assault, (sub. req.) reports. Burgess also alleges the school retaliated by making her do extra work and displaying indifference to her concerns.

Appalachian’s mishandling of Burgess’ complaints caused debilitating anxiety and panic attacks, leading to her diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder and her constructive discharge, according to the suit.

Burgess says the student became aggressive and disruptive in her class in September 2015. He talked over her, and made defiant and unprofessional comments about her. Once, when she told the student to leave her class, he told other students, “No woman will ever tell me when I can and can’t talk,” and “I will ruin her,” the suit says.

Burgess became more fearful, she said, when the student mentioned several times that he owned guns. Multiple students told Burgess that the student had become more aggressive and they were afraid for her. Burgess says she complained repeatedly to the administration, but months went by with no action. Finally, in April 2016, the school agreed to post security outside of Burgess’ classroom, but did not follow through, the suit alleges.

Burgess says the student was a danger to others as well. He groped some classmates, and allegedly drugged and raped another staff member who told Burgess about the incident, the suit claims. Another student who had been bullied by the aggressive student committed suicide, according to the suit.

The school finally opened a Title IX investigation, but it “was a farce from start to finish,” the suit says. Investigators omitted the rape report, mischaracterized the facts, and held a hearing before Burgess had time to prepare, the suit says. The investigation report also revealed Burgess’ new address to the student; she had moved because the student knew her previous address and was aware she had complained.

The investigation found the student did not violate Title IX in his treatment of Burgess, but he was responsible under the federal law for his treatment of other victims. The finding against the student was later reversed, according to the suit.

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