February 19, 2018
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Lawsuit claims University of Southern Maine failed to protect woman from sexual assaults

By Beth Brogan, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — An Orono woman has filed a civil lawsuit against the University of Southern Maine, University of Maine System and two former students claiming the college failed to protect her from sexual assaults allegedly committed by the two men, one a USM student, on the Gorham campus in January 2012.

According to the suit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court, a male USM student allegedly sexually assaulted the plaintiff on Jan. 19, 2012, after he attended a gathering at her dormitory.

The complaint alleges the male student gave her what she believed was marijuana, after which she “became extremely loopy and ha[d] some hallucinations.”

She alleges the student then sexually assaulted her, and that she did not consent, “nor was she in any condition to do so,” the complaint states.

Ten days later, she was allegedly sexually assaulted again by a different man, this time in the bathroom of her dormitory — a different dorm from where the first assault allegedly occurred.

The suit alleges that the man, who was not a USM student but who was known to the plaintiff, told the plaintiff on Jan. 29, 2012, that he would visit her later in the day, and that he arrived, found her in the shower and sexually assaulted her despite her objections.

She allegedly visited Maine Medical Center after both incidents and reported them both to the Gorham Police Department.

No charges were filed against either man, the plaintiff’s attorney, Sarah Churchill, said Friday.

The suit claims the University of Southern Maine “did not take any steps to protect plaintiff from [the first man], who was allowed to remain on campus,” and that the university system failed to protect her, keep her safe, or to convene any proceedings or procedures to discipline the two men as outlined in the student code of conduct.

The plaintiff alleges that the system’s lack of action stemmed from her gender and/or race.

As a result, according to the complaint, the alleged victim suffered “extreme emotional distress that required medical treatment,” withdrawal from USM and the delay of her graduation.

The suit also charges the University of Maine System with violating Title IX, the federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program , failing to implement or enforce policies and denying the alleged victim equal protection and due process; failing to provide equal protection; and “engag[ing] in a conspiracy” to deprive her of equal protection including failing to investigate the alleged assaults.

The suit charges the system with breach of contract, referencing the USM Student Code of Conduct, and alleges that the university “was deliberately indifferent” to the plaintiff, and that “the conduct toward plaintiff was so pervasive” as to create a hostile environment that interfered with her ability to learn and feel safe at school.

The complaint charges each of the alleged perpetrators with negligence, arguing that they breached a duty of reasonable care by engaging in unwanted physical and sexual contact with the plaintiff, the intentional infliction of emotional distress, and the negligent infliction of emotional distress.

The complaint seeks a jury trial and unspecified damages.

James Thelan, general counsel for the University of Maine System, on Friday provided the following comment: “The University of Maine System has not been served with a lawsuit yet and cannot comment further on what is obviously a very private and concerning matter.”

This report mentions sexual assault, which may be hard for some readers. If you need support, please call 1-800-871-7741 to talk with an advocate. This service is free, private and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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