Higher education

Lawsuits allege University of Iowa mishandled sexual assault, harassment complaints

Attorney in lawsuits represented Jane Meyer and Tracey Griesbaum, who won $6.5 million gender discrimination settlement

The Old Capitol building is shown in Iowa City on Monday, March 30, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The Old Capitol building is shown in Iowa City on Monday, March 30, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

Two former University of Iowa graduate students are suing the UI based on allegations the university mishandled allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

The suits against the UI, Iowa Board of Regents and the state say the UI has given only lip service to making changes in how sexual harassment and sexual assault are addressed on campus, despite high-profile legal cases, including a $6.5 million settlement of a gender discrimination lawsuit in the UI Athletics Department earlier this year.

Samantha Lange alleges in her lawsuit, filed Monday in Polk County by Des Moines attorneys Tom Newkirk and Beatriz Mate-Kodjo, she was sexually assaulted several times by the same man, also a graduate student, in 2012 and 2013. When she reported the incidents to UI officials, she was not given reasonable accommodations to continue her education and UI officials failed to address her concerns about a “hostile education and work environment,” the suit states.

“The University of Iowa did not respond to Ms. Lange’s complaints reasonably under the Iowa Civil Rights Act or Title IX and then retaliated against her when she reported and opposed discriminatory practices and policies,” the lawsuit states.

The Gazette generally does not name sexual assault victims, but Lange came forward by name in the lawsuit.

Ruth Bryant, in a separate lawsuit also filed by Newkirk and Mate-Kodjo, states a former UI public safety employee made a sexually suggestive gesture to her during a 2015 protest. When Bryant reported the gesture, UI officials did not follow their own policies for addressing sexual harassment complaints and blamed her for the incident, the suit states.

Both lawsuits seek compensation for the plaintiffs, but also push to force the UI to make changes. Among the changes sought are: More campus climate surveys, mandatory training for UI students, faculty, staff, administrators and regents about avoiding sexual harassment and sexual assault, twice-yearly reports to the courts about training and optional exit interviews for outgoing UI students with a neutral third party.

When contacted by the Gazette the UI had no comment on the lawsuits, Spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said.


Newkirk was one of the attorneys who represented Jane Meyer and Tracey Griesbaum, who reached a $6.5 million settlement with the UI May 19. Meyer, a former UI associate athletics director, and Griesbaum, former head field hockey coach, alleged the UI discriminated against them based on gender and sexual orientation.

A jury awarded Meyer $1.43 million on May 4, following a high-profile trial that included dozens of witnesses painting a picture of an athletic department in conflict. That award was folded into the $6.5 million settlement.

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com


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