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Title IX lawsuit dismissed from former MSU student who accused three ex-men's basketball players of rape

February 26, 2021

Content Warning: This article contains descriptions of sexual assault.

Judge Paul Maloney has dismissed a lawsuit against Michigan State University filed in 2018 by former student Bailey Kowalski that alleged that MSU discouraged her from reporting a sexual assault committed against her by three former men’s basketball players.

Kowalski said that she was raped by three members of the men’s basketball team in April 2015 while she was a freshman at Michigan State. She filed the lawsuit with the U.S. District Court three years later, in which she said that Michigan State discouraged and intimidated her from reporting the incident because she was dealing with “some really big fish." 

The U.S. District Court dismissed the case Wednesday, Feb. 24. Maloney ruled that Michigan State was not at fault because Kowalski's case could not meet all of the criteria necessary to prove guilt.

Maloney wrote in the motion for dismissal that Kowalski's case had to prove "[1] an incident of actionable sexual harassment, [2] the school’s actual knowledge of it, [3] some further incident of actionable sexual harassment, [4] that the further actionable harassment would not have happened but for the objective unreasonableness (deliberate indifference) of the school’s response, and that the Title IX injury is attributable to the post-actual-knowledge further harassment."

According to Maloney, Kowalski's case against MSU only met the first two criteria, leading to its dismissal.

This precedent was set during a 2019 court case Kollaritsch v. Michigan State University Board of Trustees, which ruled that a school must have knowledge of a sexual assault in the past, and be indifferent in their response, leading to more sexual assault.

Since Kowalski's case only involved one case of sexual assault and none after she told MSU, MSU cannot be found at fault due to the precedent set in the Kollaritsch case. The court explicitly ruled that for a school to be found guilty of violating Title IX statutes, there must be evidence of systemic harassment due to indifference from the school.

Michigan State has used this ruling to try and dismiss other Title IX lawsuits, and Kowalski's was the latest to be dismissed due to the Kollaritsch precedent.

Kowalski argued in the lawsuit that Michigan State’s handling of her case violated Title IX laws, which prevent gender discrimination by denying her equal protection from sexual violence by discouraging her from reporting the incident. 

According to the lawsuit, Michigan State advised Kowalski to go to Michigan State’s Sexual Assault Program but was not advised to seek STD testing, pregnancy testing or medical treatment. 

The lawsuit also alleged that Michigan State did not inform Kowalski of her options to report the rape to the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) or of her Title IX rights and accommodations.  

Michigan State denied Kowalski’s allegations from the original affidavit in 2018, saying that the allegations were “untrue”.

According to the lawsuit, Kowalski met the former players at Harper’s Restaurant and Brewpub in April 2015, following the team’s recent run to the Final Four. One player approached her and asked if she wanted to come back to their apartment for a party. According to the lawsuit, Kowalski struggled to hold her drink despite not having much to drink at that point.

According to the lawsuit, Kowalski rode with one of the players to their off-campus apartment and found that there was not a party and other members of the team were not there as she was told. The lawsuit says that she felt discombobulated and was unable to formulate a text, suggesting that she was drugged.

According to the lawsuit, the player lured Kowalski into his room to show her basketball memorabilia and then proceeded to rape her while she was trapped in the room and let two other players do so afterward. The lawsuit says that she did not give consent at any point during the night.

Karen Truszkowski, the attorney representing Kowalski, said that she is disappointed with the ruling, but the ruling was not unexpected. She said that they will release a statement to the public next week.

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