University files response to lawsuit of survivor of alleged sexual assault
In a legal response earlier this afternoon, the University of Oregon denied allegations made against it in a lawsuit filed in January by the survivor of an alleged sexual assault by three men’s basketball players.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, alleges that the University of Oregon and men’s basketball head coach Dana Altman violated the plaintiff’s civil rights under Title IX, violated her privacy rights under the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and were negligent in protecting her from sexual assault.
The university’s response denies the allegations and says that the UO did not violate any confidentiality laws protected by FERPA.
The university says its employees did not know former basketball player Brandon Austin was suspended for sexual assault allegations at Providence College in Rhode Island before he was recruited to Oregon. University officials spoke with Austin’s mother and Providence officials regarding Austin’s suspension. However, the university says they were not told why Austin was suspended.
“Neither Oregon nor Altman was told by the student (Austin), the student’s mother, the student’s family, the student’s friends or any representative of Providence that the discipline related to alleged sexual misconduct, or even that a female was involved,” the university said in its response.
University officials admitted that the UO obtained counseling records from the plaintiff’s sessions at the university health center, as alleged in the lawsuit, but says it did not review them.
It says that its collection of the records was not illegal because FERPA allows the university health center to provide records to university attorneys, and the records pertained to the lawsuit.
“Under Oregon law, a plaintiff who places her psychological state at issue by seeking damages for emotional distress waives any psychotherapist/patient privilege and is required to disclose counseling records related to her psychological state,” the UO argued.
University officials decided to have an administrative hearing for the three players instead of a panel hearing because the plaintiff was concerned about cross-examination. It denies that there was any agreement to omit the words “sexual misconduct” from the players’ transcripts.
The plaintiff’s counselor has also alleged that UO administration violated state law, according to an email sent to UO administrators on Sunday and obtained by the Register-Guard. Jennifer Morlok, a therapist at the university health center, said in the email that the UO administration asked her to tailor the student’s treatment in anticipation of the lawsuit.
Morlok also said that the student’s clinical records were attained by UO administrators without any court order, personal knowledge or student permission, violating privacy and federal laws.
Morlok said that she was scolded and her job was threatened after seeking legal advice after the UO’s request that she change the student’s treatment plan. She reported the “potential illegal and unethical behavior” of UO administrators and other members of the health center’s staff to state officials.
“We are heartbroken about this case and regret being in litigation with one of our students,” Tobin Klinger, a university spokesperson said in a statement about the lawsuit. “We stand by our recruiting processes and support services to students. The filing outlines our actions and demonstrates to our campus community that they can have confidence in our support services and know that if they need help, help will be provided.”
John Clune, one of the lawyers representing the victim of the alleged assault, reached out to The Emerald on Monday and issued the following statement:
“The school’s answer is another letdown. I don’t know who is running the show there, but they aren’t helping UO. They need real changes not calculated PR efforts. I have never in my years seen a school file a counterclaim against a rape victim.”
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