In fighting two Title IX lawsuits filed by former Kansas State University students Sara Weckhorst and Tessa Farmer, the university racked up more than $350,000 in legal expenses.
Michelle Geering, news and digital media specialist at the Division of Communications and Marketing, said via email that by late-January, the university had spent $371,548.96 over the last three years on outside counsel regarding the lawsuits.
The two lawsuits pertain to the sexual assaults of Weckhorst and Farmer that occured off campus at fraternity events on seperate nights. Afterwards, both women complained to the university.
“KSU refused to investigate or take any action against the perpetrators, allowing them to remain on campus, and justified its indifference on the basis that the rapes occurred off-campus,” reads a statement from The Fierberg National Law Group, which represents Weckhorst and Farmer.
Title IX: Where we are and where there's room to grow
Both women later sued K-State on the basis of Title IX, outlining what was perceived as “deliberate indifference” and inaction which created a learning environment that left them “vulnerable” to further harm at the hands of their attackers.
“KSU disagreed, suggesting that their fear of encountering the assailants on campus had no ‘basis in reality,'” the Fierberg statement continues.
On Monday, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver denied K-State’s motion to have both cases thrown out. Despite K-State’s argument that neither case pertains to Title IX, the court upheld the district court’s finding that Title IX anti-discrimination legislation does come into play.
The court of appeals sided with the plaintiffs, upholding the ruling of the District Court for the District of Kansas that an atmosphere of fear following an assault prevents an equitable learning environment.
“A Title IX plaintiff’s alleged fear of encountering her attacker must be objectively reasonable, but under the horrific circumstances alleged here Plaintiffs have adequately alleged that KSU’s deliberate indifference to their rape reports reasonably deprived them of educational opportunities available to other students at KSU,” the court of appeals wrote in their 27-page long decision.
According to the Department of Education, “Title IX protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance.”
As a public university and land-grant institution, K-State is included in the policy’s purview.
Fierberg communications manager Erika Yobbi wrote that the court ruling “will help these women and countless women across the country use Title IX to achieve justice and compel schools to protect survivors.”
In an emailed statement on behalf of the university, Geering said the university “respectfully disagrees with the court’s decision on the discrete legal issue.”
“The court’s narrow legal ruling did not determine the facts of the case or that the university committed any error,” the university statement reads. “K-State cares about its students and always provides a wealth of support. … K-State is reviewing its options for next steps in the cases.”