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Eastern Michigan sued by 11 women who say claims were mishandled

Eastern Michigan sued by 11 women who say claims were mishandled
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Eleven women filed a lawsuit against the Eastern Michigan University (EMU) Board of Regents, its police department and two fraternities for allegedly mishandling their sexual assault claims.

The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Michigan on Wednesday accuses the university, its police department, officials and two fraternities of failing to appropriately respond to their allegations against several male students, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The plaintiffs accuse the university of sex discrimination, gross negligence and of violating the women’s Title IX and civil rights, among other charges, and requests at least a $75,000 judgement. 

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The 11 women name four former male students in the lawsuit, three of whom were arrested last year on charges of sexual assault during their time at the university.

University spokesperson Geoff Larcom denied the allegations that the university “covered up” sexual assault allegations, saying in a statement to The Hill that any accusations in the lawsuit that the "University covered up such crimes are false.”

EMU President James Smith sent the university a campus message, which discussed its Title IX office without specifically referencing the lawsuit.

"Let me be clear: no student should suffer a sexual assault while part of our community," he said in the message. "Worse, when one occurs and the survivor does not experience the kind of support they need and deserve, the institution must pay attention and strive tirelessly to fix whatever it was that created such an environment.”

"Every student should feel comfortable using University services – and particularly our Title IX office – when they have experienced a sexual assault,” he added. 

One of the women claimed that former Title IX coordinator Melody Werner told them “it’s not even worth reporting” the incident, and one said a university officer told her “nothing would happen” since she reported two months after the incident. 

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The university said in a statement that Werner, who left for a job at Michigan State University in 2019, “categorically denies ever saying anything of that nature to any individual reporting a sexual assault.”

The university previously told the Detroit Free Press that several cases now mentioned in the lawsuit involved complainants who did not want a formal investigation. One of the complaints was sent in anonymously, so officials could not follow up. 

The Ypsilanti Police Department, which handled the arrests of former students last year, said in a release that it continues to actively investigate “multiple instances of reported violence against women including sexual assault dating back to 2014.”