Suit revived over UW response to alleged rape by athlete
The state appeals court breathed new life Monday into a lawsuit that accused the University of Washington of minimizing an allegation of...
Seattle Times staff reporters
The state appeals court breathed new life Monday into a lawsuit that accused the University of Washington of minimizing an allegation of rape against a Husky football player and treating his accuser with "deliberate indifference."
In a 42-page opinion, a three-judge appeals panel cited "ample evidence" to argue before a jury that the UW tried to keep quiet the 2001 allegation against former Huskies player Roc Alexander by discouraging the accuser from filing a police report, opting instead for a face-to-face mediation session between her and Alexander.
The appellate opinion did not rule on the facts but found that the lawsuit -- filed by a former UW student -- was improperly dismissed in 2005 by King County Superior Court Judge Bruce Hilyer. The ruling sends the case back for trial.
The plaintiff, identified in the court ruling only by her initials, said in an interview Monday that she saw the appellate ruling as a welcome sign of support after seven years of seeking help.
"It's definitely been an uphill battle to prove I was mistreated," she said. "Finally, the courts are on my side -- at least for now."
Alexander was a freshman on the UW's Rose Bowl-winning 2000 team. That squad was recently profiled in a Seattle Times series that examined how the UW, the courts and other community institutions responded to allegations of criminal conduct by some players.
The plaintiff sued Alexander and the UW in 2004. Alexander settled for an undisclosed sum. A second woman, also a UW student, likewise sued Alexander, accusing him of rape. Alexander settled that lawsuit as well.
Andrew Cooley, the UW's attorney in the lawsuit, denied that the university acted improperly, saying the plaintiff had not disclosed she'd been raped. "The first time rape was even mentioned was when she sued us," Cooley said.
The UW has not decided whether it will appeal the ruling.
The court ruling detailed the allegations of the plaintiff and her interactions with Alexander and the university. The plaintiff's suit against the university cited a violation of Title IX, the federal law forbidding discrimination in educational programs.
In 2000, as the Huskies were in California preparing for the Rose Bowl, the plaintiff, then a freshman working for the athletic department, began a consensual relationship with Alexander. She ended the relationship in 2001, when she said Alexander physically threatened her during sex, according to the court ruling.
A few days later, the plaintiff alleged, Alexander forced his way into her dormitory room and raped her. She did not report it at first, she said, in part out of fear of losing her job, according to the ruling.
In the summer of 2001, the woman told an assistant football coach that she had been sexually assaulted. She was referred to Marie Tuite, a senior associate athletic director. The plaintiff told Tuite she'd been "violated" and wanted to file a police report, according to the court ruling.
Tuite, the plaintiff alleged, suggested that she stop working with the football team. If the plaintiff continued working with the team, and word of the alleged assault spread, "it would reflect poorly" on the UW, Tuite told her, the plaintiff said.
Tuite also asked the woman to hold off contacting police, according to the plaintiff's account cited in the court ruling.
Tuite, in a deposition filed as part of the court case, disputed the plaintiff's account and denied discouraging her from going to police. Tuite testified in the deposition that the plaintiff did tell her Alexander had acted inappropriately but didn't say "rape."
"I didn't want to ask her specifically," Tuite said. "I'm not trained in that area, and didn't feel it was my place."
At the suggestion of the athletic department, the UW's student ombudsman mediated the matter between the plaintiff and Alexander in October 2001. Although the UW has a program for sexual-assault victims, the plaintiff was not referred there for help, according to the court ruling.
At the three-hour mediation, the woman asked that Alexander be suspended from the football program but said Tuite denied the request, saying the media "would ask why he was not playing," according to the court ruling.
As a result of the mediation, Alexander was ordered to do community service and attend counseling.
The plaintiff felt the mediation was "totally biased" against her, she said in the Monday interview with The Times. "I think that's the thing that has stuck with me -- how [the mediation] was run and the lack of outcome."
Becky Roe, the plaintiff's lawyer, said the UW's use of mediation was "ridiculous, and they know they shouldn't do it."
The UW's current ombudsman, Susan Neff, said Monday that the UW no longer uses mediation in cases of alleged sexual assault.
In 2002, the plaintiff contacted King County prosecutors about filing a police report, according to the court ruling. But a prosecutor told her that criminal charges were unlikely because so much time had elapsed, the court ruling said. She never did file a report.
In 2003, just before his final football season at the UW, Alexander was arrested in Chelan County for misdemeanor assault. A woman told police Alexander had shoved her to the ground, scraping her leg and face. Alexander pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two days in jail.
In 2004, the plaintiff filed her civil suit against the university, citing a violation of Title IX, the federal law forbidding discrimination in educational programs.
Alexander joined the NFL in 2004, and is currently with the Houston Texans. A call to the team requesting an interview with Alexander was not returned Monday.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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