A federal court judge will not dismiss specific claims within a lawsuit filed against Utah State University after several women were sexually assaulted in a fraternity rape case, but three administrators individually named in the suit will not be held liable.
The 2016 lawsuit named Utah State University, Sigma Chi Corporation, Gamma Kappa Alumni Foundation and Gamma Kappa. Associate Vice President for Student Services Eric Olsen and Student Conduct Coordinator & Assessment Specialist Krystin Deschamps were both named, as well as Associate Director of Student Affairs Kevin Webb, who also acts as the liaison between Utah State University and the Greek community there.
According to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court by Victoria Hewlett, one of the women raped by Jason Relopez in 2015, these parties knew Relopez had been accused of sexual assault on multiple occasions but failed to take appropriate action before she, too, was raped.
There are 10 accusations leveled in the lawsuit, including one that alleges Hewlett’s civil right were violated by “personnel defendants” Olsen, Deschamps and Webb. Hewlett argues she “has a clearly established right under federal statutory and Constitutional law to bodily integrity and a right to be free of sexual harassment.”
Federal Judge David Nuffer dismissed claims against Olsen, Deschamps and Webb on the basis of qualified immunity, legal doctrine that prevents officials from being sued in a civil case if they have not violated an individual’s statutory or constitutional rights.
“Case law does not support Hewlett’s claim that the personnel defendants violated her clearly established rights,” Nuffer wrote in his court ruling.
He states there is no specific law that addresses civil liability for “underreacting” to a potential threat of sexual harassment or assault.
Additionally, he states, the university’s alleged failure to protect her is not a violation of due process rights unless the university had a specific duty to protect her or created the danger to her.
“The potential threat posed to Hewlett, of which the personnel defendants were allegedly aware, was realized off campus and outside of the personnel defendants’ supervision,” Nuffer wrote.
Olsen, Deschamps and Webb were only implicated in this one claim, so the judge’s dismissal removes them from the case.
A second claim that initially attempted to hold them liable for breach of contract was not meant to name them, but should have named the university instead. Court documents state the complaint will be amended to reflect his.
This matter is one of several pretrial motions to be considered in advance of a 12-day jury trial currently scheduled for the spring of 2019.