A recent review by the Wall Street Journal reveals that 22 major institutions of higher learning and university systems across the nation paid over $10.5 million in settlements to plaintiffs alleging sexual assault or harassment over a two year period. In most cases, it was not about the acts alone, but rather administrators’ failure to take appropriate action once perpetrators were identified and their misconduct proven. Settlements included cases involving students as well as faculty and staff.
It appears to be less expensive to settle the cases than to fight them in court, according to law professor Scott Schneider of Tulane University. He told the Journal, “All the economic calculus points to, ‘Let’s just get this case settled. Let’s get it resolved and move on.” That “economic calculus” goes beyond legal costs and court fees.
When it comes to faculty members who are alleged to have violated their institution's sexual misconduct procedures, tenure comes into the equation. Dismissal of a tenured professor can take several months, even years – and often leads to litigation in any event. This was the case for professors at universities in Kentucky, Michigan and Washington, who accepted settlements that included resignation or early retirement.
These settlements involve not only victims but accused violators as well. Litigation can and does go in both directions. In a related story, nine members of the University of Minnesota's football team – all African-American – have filed a discrimination lawsuit against the institution, claiming that they had been ”scapegoated” during the investigation of an alleged gang rape that took place in September of 2016.
The nine players, all of whom were suspended, allege “racial and gender discrimination; intentional, willful, and malicious misconduct; and deliberate indifference” from the administration during the investigation. They are seeking damages in the amount of $5 million each, claiming that the university's actions have caused irreparable harm to their careers. Unlike other universities, the U. of M. has publicly stated that it acted properly in the matter and will “vigorously” defend itself against the allegations.