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Lawsuit accuses UNL of insufficient response to complaints based on sexual misconduct and discrimination
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Lawsuit accuses UNL of insufficient response to complaints based on sexual misconduct and discrimination

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Nine women, all former or current students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, sued the school in federal court here Monday alleging its investigations and responses into sexual misconduct and harassment were insufficient.

"We have outlined a pattern of behavior that has frightened and discouraged UNL students from reporting incidents of abuse to the university. These are not isolated incidents," their attorney, Karen Truszkowski, said Monday. 

Some of the allegations came to light first in April when a Title IX lawsuit was filed against the NCAA in U.S. District Court in Michigan on behalf of students at UNL and Michigan State University.

At least some of the reported incidents name Husker student-athletes as victims and allege players, who are not named, of wrongdoing. 

That case later was voluntarily dismissed and refiled in Michigan state court, Truszkowski said. 

And now there are two separate lawsuits against each of the universities. 

In the case filed in U.S. District Court in Lincoln this week, Truszkowski said UNL's failure to appropriately respond and investigate the women's claims, "as well as the sex and race discrimination and other harms perpetrated by UNL against the plaintiffs," caused them severe harms and denied them their ability to participate fully in their education as UNL students.

The Lansing, Michigan-based attorney, who specializes in Title IX and sex discrimination cases, said three of the nine women were "forced to leave the university due to the severity of the harm caused to them."

She said the training UNL provides for students on its sexual misconduct policies, definitions, and investigation and reporting procedures falls far short of what is considered industry standard. She said it consists of a short, generic YouTube video about consent during orientation; an online Title IX video that is supposed to be watched prior to enrollment; and a flyer.

The 96-page lawsuit outlines the university's responses to alleged rapes, gropings, stalking cases and racial discrimination and alleges that UNL failed to act in a timely manner, or handled the women’s reports with indifference, in some cases because male student-athletes on Husker sports teams were involved.

Among the allegations:

* Capri Davis, a former Husker volleyball player who left the program in December, said she and an unnamed female student-athlete were groped without consent by two members of the Husker football team in the spring of 2019. The unidentified female student-athlete also reported being raped by one of those football players and another Husker student-athlete in August 2018.

* Another unnamed student, who reported being sexual assaulted by a Husker player, said she was reluctant to move forward with a Title IX investigation after learning the office sent another female student’s confidential information to an involved student with the same first name but a different last name.

* Another former UNL student, Sheridan Thomas, reported being raped by a football player in 2015 to administrators and Title IX investigators, but said the office did not interview potential witnesses she provided and later found there had been no wrongdoing.

The suit, which seeks a jury trial, asks for punitive damages against UNL for the psychological and emotional distress, embarrassment, humiliation, loss of education and educational opportunities and loss of past, present and future earnings.

A UNL spokeswoman said she couldn't comment on the specifics of any Title IX investigation or on pending litigation. But, she said, "the health and safety of all students, is of the upmost importance. We have a strong Title IX process and are confident in it. Every case is difficult and investigated based on the information made available."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSpilger

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Public safety reporter

Lori Pilger is a Norfolk native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been a public safety reporter for the Journal Star since 2005.

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