The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled unanimously against Kansas State University’s request to have a Title IX lawsuits thrown out. This means that the case will continue through the civil court system.
The lawsuits, filed separately by former students Sara Weckhorst and Tessa Farmer, allege the university acted indifferently toward the sexual assaults of the two women.
The circuit court upheld the district court decision that denied K-State’s motions to dismiss the Title IX claims of the plaintiffs.
“We conclude that, in this case, Plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that KSU’s deliberate indifference made each of them ‘vulnerable to’ sexual harassment by allowing their student-assailants—unchecked and without the school investigating— to continue attending KSU along with Plaintiffs,” the court writes. “This, as Plaintiffs adequately allege, caused them to withdraw from participating in the educational opportunities offered by KSU.”
In August 2017, Jared R. Gihring, former K-State student, was sentenced to almost 13 years in prison for the rape of Weckhorst.
The assault, which took place in 2014 and occurred at a fraternity event, was one in a string of multiple assaults perpetrated against Weckhorst while intoxicated at the party, including an assault that was videotaped and posted on social media while she was unconscious.
After Weckhorst reported the assaults and identified her attackers, she reports that the director of the KSU Women’s Center (now CARE) alerted the perpetrators of the complaints. Weckhorst was also told by two associate deans of student life that the university could not act punitively because the rapes occurred off campus.
Title IX: Where we are and where there's room to grow
A similar sentiment of inaction was expressed to Farmer, who was also assaulted at a fraternity event in 2015. She was told by the CARE director that a report could be made with the Interfraternity Council, but it would not be investigated directly. She filed a complaint anyway and later filed a complaint with the Office of Institutional Equity. She was told the policies overseen by the OIE did not require adherence from fraternities.
Michelle Geering, news and digital media specialist at the Division of Communications and Marketing, sent the following statement via email on behalf of the university:
“The court’s narrow legal ruling did not determine the facts of the case or that the university committed any error. K-State cares about its students and always provides a wealth of support. The university offered numerous resources and support to these plaintiffs, who both went on to graduate from K-State.
“The university is committed to complying with anti-discrimination laws. K-State respectfully disagrees with the court’s decision on the discrete legal issue and believes it is contrary to other court decisions. K-State is reviewing its options for next steps in the cases.”