Lawsuit: Stanford acted with 'deliberate indifference' to reports of sexual assault

Student seeks damages and a jury trial

A female Stanford University student who says the same male student sexually assaulted her and several other women has filed a lawsuit against the university, alleging Stanford violated federal anti-discrimination law Title IX and acted negligently by failing to protect her and others from a "known sexual predator on campus."

Equal Rights Advocates, a national civil-rights organization based in San Francisco that supports and advocates for women's rights, along with San Francisco-based The Liu Law Firm and Colorado-based Hutchinson Black and Cook, filed a complaint for damages on behalf of the anonymous woman on Monday with the U.S. District Court of Northern California's San Francisco division.

Though the student is only identified as Jane Doe in the complaint, the details of her case match those detailed in a Jan. 22, 2016, Palo Alto Weekly story about a male Stanford student who over the course of his college career, Doe alleges, sexually and physically assaulted her and three other female undergraduate students. The incidences took place between 2011 and 2014, with most happening on campus, the women said. In the Weekly's story, Doe is the same woman identified by the pseudonym "Celena Dako." All of the students' names in that story were changed at their requests to protect their privacy.

The complaint details unsatisfactory experiences the women had reporting the sexual and physical violence to Stanford, alleging the university was "deliberately indifferent" to the point of violating Doe's civil rights.

She is seeking a jury trial to determine the amount of damages she is owed due to Stanford's negligence, deprivation of equal access to education, emotional harm and past and future financial costs, the lawsuit states.

Stanford spokeswoman Lisa Lapin said that despite the university's "sympathy" for Doe, Stanford "will be vigorously defending the lawsuit as we believe that Stanford has acted appropriately in this matter."

"In our response to these cases, we aim to work in a sensitive and compassionate manner with those who have experienced trauma, to investigate every dimension of the facts as we are able, to ensure the fair treatment of everyone involved, and to take the actions necessary to protect the safety of individuals and the campus community as a whole," she wrote in an email. "We believe our Title IX process is effective and fair."

The university cannot comment on specific facts of the case due to student privacy laws. Lapin said Stanford will be filing a response in court "shortly."

Stanford first became aware of the allegations in 2012, when one of the women, identified in the complaint as "Ms. A" (and as "Sara Ortiz" in the Weekly's story), reported that while dating the male student in 2011 he had choked and raped her in her dorm room. Doe's report came next in 2014, when she said that the man assaulted her on campus. Three of the four women reported the incidences to Stanford.

Stanford's Title IX office eventually found in all three reported cases that the man, identified as "Mr. X" in the complaint, had violated university policy that prohibits relationship violence, sexual misconduct and sexual assault. He was banned from campus for 15 years and required to seek professional counseling for sexual harassment and sexual violence, among other consequences.

The complaint alleges various Stanford administrators and staff members responded inadequately to Doe and Ms. A, from an academic adviser who suggested Ms. A should "take individual steps to deal with her rape and improve her mental health, such as renting a car and going to a beach" to a failure to fully investigate their complaints about the male student.

"Stanford, through the inaction of various officials with the ability and authority to take remedial action to stop the sexual harassment, sexual assaults, and sexual discrimination, had actual knowledge of, and was deliberately indifferent to sexual harassment that was so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it deprived Ms. Doe of access to the educational benefits or opportunities provided by Stanford, in violation of Title IX," the complaint states.

Lapin said the university encourages all students to report any incidents of sexual violence to both the police and Stanford, but that "without the cooperation of victims, the university is very limited in what it can do."

While Ms. A did not initially want to pursue disciplinary action against her alleged assailant -- after a "victim-blaming" experience with a counselor and another administrator's description of the "difficulty of taking criminal or administrative action," the complaint states -- she did eventually request Stanford conduct an investigation, after discovering that the man had allegedly assaulted two other women.

The complaint also alleges that Stanford violated California's Gender Motivated Violence Act, the Equity in Higher Education Act as well as its "duties of care" for Doe, "causing her to suffer significant emotional distress and other physical and emotional injuries."

Both Ms. A and Doe eventually took leaves of absence, according to the lawsuit. Doe continues to experience "considerable anxiety and emotional distress," the complaint states. She also suffered financial damages as a result of Stanford's violations of Title IX, the complaint alleges.

Doe "has been damaged and injured physically, emotionally, and financially, including but not limited to suffering from pain, anxiety, depression, serious emotional distress, and embarrassment, as well as loss of health, future relationships, income, employment, and future career benefits and earning potential," the complaint states.

The complaint seeks damages to be determined at a jury trial.

"Women will not have an equal opportunity to succeed academically until the epidemic of sexual violence on campus ends," Equal Rights Advocates Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Peterson-Fisher told the Weekly Tuesday. "Institutions like Stanford need to be held accountable for their failure to recognize the severity of these crimes and to comply with Title IX."

Doe and Ms. A also previously filed federal complaints against Stanford with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, cases which are currently under investigation.

Stanford is also facing two other separate Office for Civil Rights complaints as well as a federal lawsuit filed this spring by a former male student alleging the university violated his Title IX rights. His lawsuit alleges that the combination of a flawed disciplinary process and a university under public pressure to protect its "purported prestige and reputation against criticism that Stanford fails to adequately address alleged sexual assaults of women by men" led to violations of his right to a fair process.


The Palo Alto Weekly has created an archive of past news articles, social media reaction and other content related to the ongoing sexual assault issues at Stanford University. To view it, go to


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33 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 6, 2016 at 10:33 am

Why was law enforcement not involved from the beginning? Does Stanford have a policy of keeping sexual assault cases out of the criminal system to avoid bad publicity?

13 people like this
Posted by Shameful
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 6, 2016 at 4:22 pm

I agree with "Parent" this is shameful for Stanford. Only at Stanford could someone commit multiple instances of "relationship violence, sexual misconduct and sexual assault" and end up with just a ban from campus and required counseling. This is a joke and an insult to the victims. The perpetrator should be in jail for a long time and Stanford should have to compensate the victims tens of millions for what they went through and have lost.

4 people like this
Posted by Barbara in Mt. View
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 6, 2016 at 5:05 pm

[Post removed.]

12 people like this
Posted by Beth
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 6, 2016 at 5:49 pm

In his wonderful inaugural address, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne stated, quite vigorously, that there would be "zero" tolerance for sexual assault during his presidency. I believe he meant it. With luck, Stanford's response to these horrific crimes will change under his leadership.

6 people like this
Posted by trained staff?
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 6, 2016 at 9:20 pm

I am rarely sympathetic to Stanford (owing to their impacts here with traffic, etc. and constant self-promotion and development), BUT I wonder if there is a shortage of trained experts to deal with new federal requirements that have recently been placed on universities, along with specialized procedures, to deal with alleged sexual misconduct incidents. I continue to think the FIRST, BEST place is the criminal justice system - go to the police! in a timely fashion! - AND initiate a complaint with the university. It must be very difficult to receive a complaint (of course, in a sympathetic way), record it, analyze it, investigate it, process it, see if one may "convict" the alleged perp, determine a "sentence" all at a university whose function is education -- all meeting the precise standards of all individuals involved along with the federal government. On this thing, they have my sympathy. Better start training up a big crop of "experts" to manage this virtually unmanageable situation.

12 people like this
Posted by Jen
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 6, 2016 at 9:31 pm

Despicable on the part of Stanford but not the least bit surprised by the University's failure to take appropriate action. I get the feeling that the University only really cares about maintaining it's elitest status.

11 people like this
Posted by KM
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 6, 2016 at 9:49 pm

Stanford's constant attempts to sweep sex assaults under the rug is appalling. As a graduate of Stanford, I'm ashamed and I encourage other alums to withhold their support until things change.

12 people like this
Posted by You're kidding right?
a resident of Portola Valley
on Dec 7, 2016 at 12:25 am

Just to clarify Title IX which states "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance." has been part of the federal regulations for any university accepting funds from the federal government since 1972--this is NOT a new law.

What is new is that universities around the country are FINALLY systematically being investigated because of their concerted work at hiding sexual assault and rape to save their reputations. I suggest anyone wanting to be educated about this deplorable reality see the documentary "Hunting Ground." If any of you have students soon to go to college please watch this with them. Both genders need to be educated. Currently in our culture when two people are drunk and one assaults the other--usually men assaulting women--the men are given a pass because they were drunk and the women are told they shouldn't drink so situations don't get out of control. It's typical on campuses that sororities are not allowed to have alcohol but fraternities can. the men are excused for rape--this is systemic.

In regards to why police aren't involved, typically women aren't protected any better by the law (look at the decision by Judge Persky in Palo Alto to give 3 months in jail to a Stanford student you was assaulting a woman who was unconscious behind a dumpster) it only even got to trial because two men witnessed the assault.

Our culture is so unbelievably biased against women that we often don't see it it's so unconscious. "Boys will be boys" is ubiquitous and no such phrase exists for women. Often rape is a "he said she said" situation and even when it's witnessed the man gets off. Women know this and don't want to go through a humiliation again at the hands of the system supposed to protect them. It's expensive and takes a long time and in the end RARELY does the perpetrator get convicted. Well I suppose there are some statistics that show if it's a man of color and a white woman she might actually get some justice. But this is hardly anything more than racism.....

Men ask women you know if they have been assaulted or raped. You will be shocked that one in three women has been raped. Most women have been assaulted. All women have been harassed by men. I know it's hard to believe, but it's true. Men need to educate themselves on the reality of women.

All of you have mothers and some of you have sisters, cousins and even daughters. Imagine if you can that one of these women you love is assaulted while unconscious by a man and nothing happens to him.

Perpetrators of assault and rape are likely to be repeat offenders as the man in this article. Most men don't assault and rape, but once they do they are six times more likely to do it over and over.'s time to get ahold of your gender---hold your fellow men responsible for their violence against women.

There is so much more to say.....but if you've read this far I suggest you educate yourselves further. This is an epidemic and if you have a daughter there is a high likelihood it will happen to her.

7 people like this
Posted by Just wow...
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 7, 2016 at 8:45 am

It is not just sexual assault - it with every issue; the sexual assault is just the only one that makes you want to vomit

7 people like this
Posted by Cid Young
a resident of another community
on Dec 7, 2016 at 11:42 am

I am sorry this continues on the Stanford Campus. The Brock Turner case verdict was a mere slap on the wrist and in my opinion just Greenlighted the continuance of this sort of activity to perpetrate on more victims. The Former Stanford Alum and Athlete who was the trial judge should have recused himself (Former Stanford Grad, former Athletic Team Captain and White Male) but instead chose to hear the case and run cover for his Alma Mater. Shameful!

13 people like this
Posted by U of Misogyny
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 7, 2016 at 2:11 pm

Is there a connection between giftedness and criminal behavior? I never thought so, although the late William Shockley thought there was a connection between high intelligence and violent crime.

Personally, I think it stems from Stanford students being told, from the time they are small children, that they can do no wrong. Combine this with a possibly overprotected or even repressive childhood, an abundance of raging testosterone, and being far away from home ( and "free"), and you get sexually aggressive young men. They are out of control because they never learned self control, in spite of having great study skills. Many of them have poor social skills and limited ability to read social cues or facial expressions.

Intelligence and academics aside, many of Stanford's male undergrads are NOT well-brought up or well-rounded, especially in regard to relationships and social skills, particularly in comparison to their female peers.

Exponentially complicating the issue is Stanford's long-held practice of not taking young women's complaints of sexual assault seriously, and not reporting them to any outside law enforcement agency. Keeping such crimes " in the family ", so to speak, really does not help anyone!

5 people like this
Posted by Head in the Sand
a resident of Los Altos
on Dec 7, 2016 at 5:59 pm

Honestly, the issue is not unique to Stanford. Web Link

Anyone who argues that it is because the students are intelligent should
consider that here is typically an overall higher intelligence compared to
the average in college students. However, it might be that only the intelligent
victims complain. Note that 70% of the sexual assault is from an intimate
partner..... It's all in the definition.

5 people like this
Posted by Concerned
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 8, 2016 at 4:42 pm

This is a troubling revisit for Stanford, no doubt. But why are victims at Stanford not first instructed by policy to go IMMEDIATELY to law enforcement? A rapist should be thrown behind bars and put on a Sexual Predator list - what good is a University counselor going to do about that! Stop going to the University counselors as a first stop - go to your local police station, get a rape kit done and let the University deal with the facts, evidence and the law. The power of our criminal justice system vastly outweighs the meager efforts of a University counselor who has very limited legal power - other than to refer the victim on to the police.

Big question is why have the victims not pursued a criminal conviction on the rapist first - even now? Start there! Why is suing Stanford the first legal course of action they are taking? What's the point? Is it about justice, money, ...? At the very least, why are they not pursuing both convicting the rapist and suing Stanford?

10 people like this
Posted by crazy
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 8, 2016 at 6:22 pm

So if you guys knew the whole story some people may react differenlty. The assault was not on Stanford campus and it was dismissed that the state it was in for lack of evidence. Stanford isn't the law

8 people like this
Posted by Skeptifemale
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 10, 2016 at 10:56 am

This is some incredible "he-said/she-said" posing as a news article. If a rape or sexual assault happens off campus, is dismissed for lack of evidence, and the male is vindicated from fault by the police, what right does the school have to ban him from their campuses? Should they start banning anyone on the basis that some other student said they committed a crime? Should they take action outside of the law to prevent a student from entering the campus despite him being vindicated by the law?

This screams vigilante justice and half-truths. We need to full story before we can make any judgement regarding Stanford's actions. The fact that this woman was sexually assaulted twice within 3 years by the same guy and nothing came of it either time despite her taking it to the authorities and the Stanford administration doesn't pass the smell test.

Like this comment
Posted by Jacob Wallace
a resident of another community
on Jan 30, 2017 at 7:30 pm

Stanford Provost, John W. Ethemendy, is responsible for Title IX. Ethemendy's conduct as a WASC Senior commissioner may help explain with Stanford does not follow this federal law.

Stanford Provost John W. Etchemendy, has a dual conflicting role as a Western Senior College & University Commission, (WASC Senior, Alameda, CA), board commissioner. Commissioner Etchemendy is required under WASC Senior's by laws and incorporation to act as an accreditation and policing agency over Stanford, California State University & University of California (tramples). Etchemendy has the lofty responsibility of overseeing Stanford's (&CSU/UC) accreditation and academic excellence.
Etchemendy would earn an F---for the fraud he conducted.

Commissioner/Provost Ethemendy and four Cal State University presidents concealed a Korean diploma mill and receipt of federal student aid, which would be unlawful. We know this because we attended the graduate program. Another diploma mills was revealed by a state employee in July 2016. As provost, Ethemendy is Stanford's chief academic and budgetary officer. But as a commissioner overseeing the vast CSU system, Etchemendy is incapable of maintaining their academic standards and the release of fraudulently received federal financial aid.

Let's assume that the Stanford provost is an intelligent ethical man that is invested in assuring that WASC Senior fulfills its federal mandate. WASC Senior operates under the Council for Higher Education (CHEA) and is overseen by the US Dept. of Education. Major higher education law from WW ll to the 2008 Higher Education Act, clearly shows that consumer protection has always been the central theme for accreditation. But Commissioner Ethemendy failed to protect consumers through orchestrating a bogus diploma mill investigation and re accrediting Cal State San Bernrdino (2015). The fraud is also revealed through a second international diploma mill being operated and admitted to in July 2016.

CHEA and the rest of the accreditation establishment, however, are missing a crucial point: The expectation that accreditors protect students and taxpayer funds is nothing new. In fact, a review of major higher education legislation from World War II through the last reauthorization of the Higher Education Act in 2008 shows that consumer protection has always been the main purpose of federal legislation regarding accreditation. That was the case in 1952, when Congress first leveraged the independent accreditation system as a way to prevent bad actors from receiving federal funds. It still was the goal in 1992, when Congress rewrote many of the rules around accreditation. And it remains true today. If accreditors are still incapable of performing this role, policymakers should explore alternative ways of determining which institutions can and cannot access federal aid.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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