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Univ. of Tulsa Faces Title IX Lawsuit Over Athlete Rape Allegations

By Brett Snider, Esq. on August 20, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The University of Tulsa has been slapped with a Title IX suit in federal court based on one student's allegations that she was raped by a prominent college basketball player at the school.

Abigail Ross claims in her suit that basketball player Patrick Swilling Jr. sexually assaulted her in January. Ross asserts that the university, colloquially referred to as TU, "undertook zero investigation" of Swilling or his conduct, despite as many as three prior sexual assault reports from other TU students, reports ESPN.

How does this alleged treatment relate to Title IX?

Title IX and Sexual Assault

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prevents discrimination based on sex in education, including higher education like universities. Most people may recognize the law as the justification for giving equal funding for women's sports teams in education settings.

However, Title IX is increasingly being used by students like Ross to make their schools accountable for turning a blind eye to the issue of sexual assault on campus. In May, the U.S. Department of Education released a list of over 50 colleges which had open investigations into Title IX violations regarding "sexual violence issues," and it appears TU may join that list.

This sort of liability is possible because of U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence which allows a school to be held liable for student-on-student sexual harassment when a school has both "actual notice" and is "deliberately indifferent" to the harassment. In addition, the harassment must be so severe that it deprives a student victim of access to educational opportunities and benefits. Sexual harassment can take many forms, but its most invidious and damaging form is rape or sexual assault, from which Ross claims the school failed to protect her.

Prior Rape Allegations

According to her federal suit, in addition to being aware of Ross' rape allegations, TU allegedly failed to act after:

  • A student at College of Southern Idaho reported in 2012 being raped by Swilling before he transferred to TU;
  • A former TU student reported being raped by Swilling; and
  • A Tulsa police report of a third woman being raped by Swilling.

Ross also claims that TU's refusal to protect her from her attacker and subsequent lack of discipline for Swilling left her "terrified" of continuing study there.

The Title IX suit seeks an undisclosed amount of damages for Ross' injuries and expenses, but also a court order requiring TU to change its sexual harassment policies. TU officials declined requests for an interview, ESPN reported.

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