Law Schools

Suit by California law grad alleges school had 'policy of indifference' to rampant sexual misconduct

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A University of Southern California law grad has filed a lawsuit alleging that the school’s investigation of her rape complaint against another student was a “charade” with a predetermined outcome in his favor.

The law grad, Courtney Whittier, says USC’s Gould School of Law was “replete with sexual misconduct,” and the school had a “policy of indifference” to the problem. The result was a heightened risk of misconduct, she says in the Oct. 16 lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges violations of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

Whittier says she attended a school-sanctioned social event at a bar in December 2017, where she had too many drinks and became incapacitated. She was raped after the event by another USC student, Whittier says in the suit. She reported the rape to the law school dean in April 2018.

Whittier alleges that the school’s Title IX coordinator pressured her not to initiate a Title IX investigation. When the school did conduct an investigation, it violated its own policies by allowing the alleged perpetrator to review Whittier’s evidence before submitting his own evidence, Whittier claims. The alleged perpetrator was also allowed to submit additional evidence that was never revealed to Whittier, the suit says.

“Most egregiously,” the suit says, “USC predetermined the outcome of plaintiff’s complaint in favor of perpetrator before finishing its investigation.” The suit cites an alleged statement by the Title IX coordinator that she would find for Whittier “over [her] dead body.”

The suit says the alleged perpetrator was represented by a lawyer who had sued the school on behalf of several male USC students who had been accused of sexual misconduct. His suits led the school to violate its policy in favor of the student who raped Whittier, her suit alleges.

Whittier said she didn’t learn of the school’s policy of indifference until the investigator assigned to her case, “Investigator Doe,” filed a July 2020 lawsuit against the school.

Investigator Doe said in the suit they had no training in Title IX investigations, which was a violation of a prior consent decree between USC and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, according to Whittier. The agreement was reached after the office concluded that the school violated Title IX in the way that it responded to sexual misconduct reports, Whittier said.

Investigator Doe alleged that they were removed from Whittier’s investigation after opposing a decision to allow the alleged perpetrator to review evidence before he submitted evidence, a violation of USC policy, Whittier alleged.

The investigator’s suit also said USC kicked the investigator off the investigation of two high-ranking employees after the investigator reported corroborating evidence against the employees. The investigator was placed on leave, while the two employees were promoted.

Whittier alleged that the culture of sexual violence at Gould was so prevalent that one student conducted an informal survey of female students about sexual misconduct by a particular law student. Several reported experiencing some form of sexual misconduct.

In a statement provided to the ABA Journal, the university said: “We are reviewing the lawsuit in detail.”

Hat tip to the Recorder and Law360, which had coverage of the lawsuit.

Updated Oct. 21 at 12:50 p.m. to include the university statement.

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