A former USC law student is suing the university, claiming she was raped by a fellow student and that the university was biased in favor of the alleged perpetrator during its investigation and ignored policies meant to protect sexual assault victims.
The federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of Courtney Whittier, a former student at USC Gould School of Law, alleging she was sexually assaulted following a Law School social event and that the university’s investigation violated the school’s own Title IX policies and was skewed in favor of the perpetrator.
The university responded that it was “reviewing the lawsuit in detail.”
Whittier alleges that in December 2017 she attended the event and drank alcohol to the point of becoming incapacitated, according to the suit. While in that condition she was allegedly raped by another USC student at her perpetrator’s apartment. The plaintiff subsequently reported her rape to the dean of the Law School and to the USC Title IX Office, according to the complaint filed Oct. 16 in Los Angeles federal court.
According to the lawsuit, the USC Title IX Coordinator initially pressured her not to file a formal complaint and allegedly failed to return her follow-up call asking for an investigation. After contacting the dean a second time, the Title IX Office assigned an investigator with no Title IX training to look into the incident report, the lawsuit contends.
The woman alleges the investigation violated USC Title IX policies and Title IX provisions that ensure a fair investigation. The suit contends that her attacker hired a well-known attorney who had represented other sexual perpetrators involved in civil lawsuits against USC. Once that attorney became involved, the lawsuit alleges, USC allowed the perpetrator to review all of the evidence submitted by the plaintiff before submitting his own evidence, which allowed him to tailor his account to respond to her allegations.
The perpetrator was also allowed to submit additional evidence after his initial submittal, and the plaintiff was never informed or given the same opportunity, the complaint alleges.
“After suffering rape at a USC-sponsored event, our client went to her school for support and protection asking for a fair investigation but instead she faced a Title IX office that was biased toward her rapist and intimidated by an attorney (to the point of) violating its own Title IX policies,” said Alex Zalkin, attorney for the plaintiff. “Its own Title IX investigator in this case has filed a separate lawsuit that outlines USC’s outrageous practices that protect sexual perpetrators and biased investigations.”
The investigator of the plaintiff’s complaint has asserted in a separate federal lawsuit against USC that he/she was assigned to investigate the case even though USC was aware the he/she has no Title IX training, which was in violation of USC’s consent decree with the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, according to Zalkin.
The investigator’s lawsuit alleges that he/she opposed the decision of the USC Title IX Coordinator to provide all of the plaintiff’s evidence to the perpetrator before submitting his own evidence. After raising objections to Title IX violations in the probe, the investigator was removed from the investigation but the investigators signature was still affixed to the report without consent.
The complaint also details an alleged history of indifference to sexual misconduct cases at USC, citing the recent multimillion-dollar settlement of lawsuits by sexual abuse student victims of former campus gynecologist Dr. George Tyndall.