Monday, July 6, 2020

Federal judge dismisses Title IX suit against MSU, calls campus culture 'deeply troubling'

June 24, 2020
A Michigan State University sign on Beal Street on Aug. 23, 2019.
A Michigan State University sign on Beal Street on Aug. 23, 2019. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Robert Jonker issued the dismissal of a federal Title IX lawsuit regarding MSU's response to sexual misconduct Monday, according to Jonker's opinion and order statement.

Sage Wood, who enrolled at MSU in 2015, filed a lawsuit in November 2019 alleging MSU faculty dissuaded her from reporting two instances of sexual assault.

In December, a separate case filed by four MSU alumni was dismissed, similarly alleging inadequate response from university officials. University lawyers then sought to dismiss Wood's case on the same basis.

The December suit was dismissed because the court determined action cannot be taken against MSU without proof of extended harassment from the perpetrator.

Jonker, of the Western District Court of Michigan, references this dismissal in his opinion and order statement.

Dismissal was based on legalities, not a factual dispute

Jonker described MSU's campus culture as "deeply troubling," according to his opinion statement. However, the lack of further harassment after Wood's report to MSU officials means further action cannot be taken against MSU under Title IX liability.

Jonker explains in his opinion statement that this does not dispute that Wood was assaulted.

Karen Truszkowski, Wood's attorney, said this is a legal issue not a factual issue.

"It has nothing to do with whether it happened or didn't happen, it's completely a legal question," Truszkowski said.

Wood's original complaint against MSU

Wood sought compensation for psychological and emotional distress in the aftermath of sexual assault.

The complaint detailed two instances of sexual violence. Wood contacted MSU's Office of Institutional Equity, or OIE, to speak with a Title IX investigator in December 2016.

As reported in the complaint, the investigator told her "You're lucky. It could've been a lot worse."

The investigator said Wood would not want to ruin the perpetrator's chances of getting into a graduate program, according to the complaint.

There are no plans to challenge Jonker's dismissal, Truszkowski said.

"I don't think we have grounds for an appeal right now," Truszkowski said.

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