Firm Clients File Lawsuit Against University Charging Sexually Hostile Environment

Katz, Marshall & Banks and Shelley Cupp Schulte, P.C. are representing five former students of the University of Mary Washington, the Feminist Majority Foundation, and members of Feminists United, in a lawsuit filed against the university in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.  The lawsuit charges that the university violated both Title IX and the constitutional right to equal protection of female students by condoning a sexually hostile campus environment. It also alleges that the university permitted gender-based sexual harassment against members of Feminists United. Feminists United is a university group dedicated to fighting for gender equality and educating the student body about gender-related issues. After speaking out about the increased incidence of sexual assaults involving fraternities nationwide, Feminists United members were repeatedly verbally assaulted and threatened through an anonymous social media app called “Yik Yak” and other posting sites.  They repeatedly complained to the university's president and other administrators, who failed to take action to protect them in deliberate indifference to their federally protected rights. 

In May 2015, the women filed a sex discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR), alleging that the university administration took no action to protect members of Feminists United from these anonymous threats, violating Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination within federally funded educational institutions. Commenting on the case, Debra Katz noted that the women decided to file a lawsuit in court after officials at the Education Department "stonewalled" the Title IX complaint. "The bigger picture is that students shouldn't have to go to court. That's the purpose of OCR," she said. The new lawsuit alleges that the sexually hostile and threatening environment on campus caused these women emotional and psychological harm. It goes on to say, "By choosing to permit the harassment to go unaddressed and unpunished...defendant UMW became liable for the acts of retaliation against the Plaintiffs and responsible for the clear and direct violation of the Plaintiffs' rights under and pursuant to Title IX." Firm associate Joseph Abboud concluded, "We want to make clear that universities are places where students should have access to the benefits of education regardless of sex or advocacy for equality." To read more about the case, click here.