Education

UI graduate student who said state botched her sexual-harassment claim to receive payment

'The University of Iowa's response to Ms. Bryant's complaint is illustrative of its victim-blaming, gender-biased, and implicitly biased system-response'

The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right), and MacLean Hall (bottom right) in an aerial photograph. (The Gazette/file photo)
The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right), and MacLean Hall (bottom right) in an aerial photograph. (The Gazette/file photo)

IOWA CITY — One of two former University of Iowa graduate students who sued the school, state and Board of Regents for the way their accusations of sexual harassment, assault, discrimination and retaliation were handled has agreed to drop her case in exchange for $21,250.

Ruth Bryant, 37, on Oct. 7 signed a settlement that the State Appeal Board approved Monday.

Another UI graduate student — Samantha Lange, 31 — who sued at the same time, has not settled and is headed to trial in January.

Both lawsuits rip the university, regents and state for failing to change how they address sexual harassment and assault allegations, despite high-profile legal cases including a $6.5 million settlement in a gender discrimination lawsuit from former UI associate athletics director Jane Meyer and former UI head field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum.

“The University of Iowa engaged in a pattern of decision-making suggesting a clearly unreasonable and deliberately indifferent response to a sexual harassment complaint made by Ms. Bryant against a male University of Iowa employee,” said Bryant’s lawsuit, according to court records.

“The University of Iowa’s response to Ms. Bryant’s complaint is illustrative of its victim-blaming, gender-biased, and implicitly biased system-response in place to address the sexual assault and sexual harassment complaints of students, faculty and staff.”

Bryant’s lawsuit stems from her time as a member of the UI graduate student union — known as the Campaign to Organize Graduate Students — and her involvement in 2015 protests over UI President Bruce Harreld’s hiring.

Four years ago — on Oct. 21, 2015 — Bryant reported in her lawsuit that then-Associate Director of Campus Security William Searls approached her and another student at a protest during a regents meeting and verbally harassed and intimidated her and sexually harassed her.

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In the days that followed, Bryant reported her experiences to the UI Office of the Sexual Misconduct Response Coordinator and she filed a formal complaint with the university’s Chief Diversity Office.

The office found the harassment didn’t occur, according to the lawsuit, and Bryant appealed.

In Monday’s approved settlement, the state did not concede any wrongdoing or admit guilt.

In exchange for $21,250 — $12,180 paid to Bryant and $9,070 to her Des Moines attorneys at Newkirk Zwagerman PLC — she agreed to drop her suit and promised not to file any new ones over the incident.

Lange, whose case remains headed to trial, has accused the university of failing to respond reasonably to allegations she was sexually assaulted several times by the same man — another graduate student — in 2012 and 2013.

Additionally, according to Lange’s lawsuit, the UI retaliated against her, failed to provide reasonable accommodations for her education and failed to address her concerns about a “hostile education and work environment.”

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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