A U.S. District Court denied K-State’s motion to dismiss Title IX violations cited in two ongoing federal lawsuits against the university Tuesday.
The suits were filed in April by former KSU students Sara Weckhorst and Tessa Farmer. Both allege K-State failed to diligently address their claims of sexual assault and rape by male fraternity members who also attended the university.
Since the beginning and in court documents, K-State has asserted off-campus rapes or sexual assaults wouldn’t be investigated by the university, citing its lack of jurisdiction.
But in court documents made accessible by KSU Wednesday morning, Judge Julie A. Robinson ruled Weckhorst “presented plausible allegations as to each element required to state a Title IX discrimination claim, including that KSU had substantial control over both the alleged assailants and the context of the alleged assaults, and that KSU’s alleged deliberate indifference made Plaintiff liable or vulnerable to further harassment or assaults.”
Judge Robinson said the same for Farmer.
The court also said in both cases the United States has filed a “Statement of Interest,” which provides that “the Solicitor General, or any officer of the Department of Justice, may be sent by the Attorney General to any State or district in the United States to attend to the interests of the United States in a suit pending in a court of the United States… or to attend to any other interest of the United States.”
The court documents go on to say that “the United States asserts it has an interest in this case because the United States Departments of Justice and Education share responsibility for enforcing Title IX in the education context, and because it has an interest in ensuring ‘effective private enforcement of Title IX in court.’”
The court did, however, dismiss claims K-State violated the Kansas Consumer Protection Act in that the university misrepresented the safety of fraternities and another count that claimed KSU was negligent “in its duty to regulate, warn, protect her from, or otherwise make reasonably safe the foreseeably dangerous environment at the fraternity house and fraternity party relevant to this case.”
The court also denied Weckhorst’s amendment to join Crystal Stroup, another KSU student, as a plaintiff in this case based on new information allegedly learned after filing her original complaint.
Stroup was allegedly raped by Jared Gihring, who is also cited as one of the alleged rapists in the Weckhorst case, but that incident allegedly took place at University Crossing — a private off-campus apartment complex the court said KSU could not have “substantial control” of.
On Jan. 3, Gihring plead not guilty to rape charges involving the two women in the Riley County District Court. He is scheduled for a motions hearing on Friday.
In a written, public statement posted on its website, K-State began it saying, “On March 14, the Kansas federal court dismissed the majority of Tessa Farmer’s and Sarah Weckhorst’s lawsuits and confirmed that Title IX applies only to sexual violence occurring in Kansas State University’s programs and activities.”
Later in the statement, KSU said the dismissal of KCPA and negligence counts “resolves the majority of each lawsuit in the university’s favor.”
But two paragraphs later, K-State added, “At this preliminary stage of the lawsuits, the Court allowed the second Title IX theory to proceed to the ‘discovery’ phase of the litigation — where evidence will be developed through documents and testimony — because the federal rules of civil procedure required the Court to accept as true the plaintiffs’ allegations. The Plaintiffs alleged that K-State had substantial control over private fraternities and their off-campus, private fraternity houses sufficient to consider those fraternities part of K-State’s programs and activities. In reaching this ruling, the Court did not make any factual findings concerning these allegations about the Greek system; instead, the Court simply recited the plaintiffs’ unproven allegations. The university is confident the evidence will demonstrate that K-State did not have substantial control over the context of the alleged sexual assaults.”
The court documents in the Weckhorst case, however, suggest K-State does have such control over fraternities.
The court agreed with her argument that KSU fraternities are student housing organizations that are open only to KSU students, and on its website, KSU describes its fraternities as “Kansas State University Organizations.”
The court also cited Weckhorst’s argument that the director of the fraternity at issue in this case is a KSU instructor; that KSU promotes its fraternities on its website and to prospective students and parents; that KSU employs five individuals on campus in its Office of Greek Affairs, which is responsible for carrying out a number of functions to support fraternities and sororities, including administrative assistance, advisory responsibilities, education and development, serving as a liaison to chapter presidents, holding regular meetings with chapters,
and conducting chapter assessments; that KSU has the authority to regulate fraternity houses, and implements rules for regulating parties and certain other activities at fraternity houses and events; and finally that Dean of Student Life, Pat Bosco, approved the KSU Interfraternity Council’s decision to suspend the fraternity for the alcohol at the party at which Weckhorst was raped.
Following those arguments, the court said it is “convinced that the fraternity is an ‘operation’ of the University, and that KSU has substantial control over student conduct within the fraternity.”
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