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 storify.com/paloaltoweekly.