Court dismisses Title IX case against university by former student

Beardshear+Hall+from+Central+Campus+on+Sept.+19.

Beardshear Hall from Central Campus on Sept. 19.

Alex Connor

A federal court ruled Tuesday to dismiss a former Iowa State student’s case against the university that alleged her Title IX rights were violated after she was sexually assaulted by another student in spring 2014.

Melissa Maher, who in 2016 took initial action against the university for subjecting her to an unreasonable amount of time to investigate the incident, said Iowa State was “deliberately indifferent” about her case due to her sex.

Additionally, Maher’s Title IX suit alleged her discrimination was “so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it can be said to deprive her of access to the educational opportunities or benefits provided by the school.”

Decided Tuesday, however, was Iowa State’s motion for a summary judgement which concluded Maher did not demonstrate a “genuine issue of material fact” as to whether Iowa State engaged in the aforementioned Title IX discrimination. 

A summary judgment is a request for the court to rule there is no case because there are not enough facts to present the issue. Should the court have ruled against Iowa State’s motion for a summary judgement, Maher’s lawsuit would have gone to trial in early May. 

“While we are pleased with the court’s ruling, our thoughts are primarily with Ms. Maher and other survivors of sexual assault,” said Iowa State communications director John McCarroll. “We are deeply saddened that Ms. Maher experienced this traumatic sexual assault and the devastating impact caused by the criminal conduct of a fellow student.”

The judgement was decided by Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Helen Adams, who had originally heard arguments from Maher and Iowa State in early January during the summary hearing. 

The hearing was requested by attorney Derek Teeter on behalf of Iowa State, who is a partner at Husch Blackwell—a corporate law firm hired by Iowa State to represent the university in its Title IX cases. 

According to court documents, additional disputes between Maher and Iowa State also stemmed from the two parties clashing in deciding when the Title IX violations began. 

Because Title IX does not have a statute of limitations, the court must use the state’s personal statute of limitations in claims such as this.

Maher argued the statute of limitations began on Sept. 19, 2014, the day her assaulter, Patrick Whetstone, was reported to have violated the university’s Code of Conduct provision against sexual assault. 

Iowa State argued Maher’s claim was even further time barred, however, because “she claims the indifference began in the spring of 2014, which is approximately six months outside the limitations.”

The court decided however that “alleged discrimination began, and the day that Iowa State was allegedly deliberately indifferent to its own discrimination” on Aug. 20, 2014 when Maher was made aware she would be living in the same apartment complexes as Whetstone. 

During this period, Iowa State offered to provide Maher with alternative housing but declined to move Whetstone.

Both dates, however, whether spring or fall 2014 still fell outside the statue of limitations, according to Iowa law.  

“The court also recognized the difficult balance the university must navigate in protecting and supporting the needs of alleged victims,” McCarroll said.

The university also has the responsibility of satisfying its due process obligations to alleged perpetrators.

“As campus community, we must strive to rid our campus of sexual violence. Additionally, we should redouble our efforts to support survivors and help them to heal and accomplish their future goals,” McCarroll said.

Currently, Iowa State is actively involved in several additional cases alleging Title IX violations by the university including a lawsuit by a former student and former Title IX Director Robinette Kelley. 

Correction: The article has been updated to reflect that the above case went through federal court and not Iowa’s Southern District Court. The article has also been updated to reflect that Judge Helen C. Adams is a Chief U.S. Magistrate and not a circuit court judge. The Daily regrets these errors.