3 Berkeley students sue UC
The university system is accused of failing to properly respond to complaints of sexual assault.
Three current and former UC Berkeley students sued the University of California on Monday for allegedly failing to properly respond to their sexual assault complaints, asserting that administrators did not act quickly enough or adequately penalize perpetrators found responsible.
The civil lawsuit, f iled in Alameda County Superior Court, accused UC regents of “deliberate indifference” in three 2012 cases, sex discrimination, fraud and failure to properly educate students about sexual misconduct and enact policies to handle and prevent such behavior.
“They absolutely failed to respond to these charges in any manner that could be considered adequate,” said Irwin M. Zalkin, an attorney for the plaintiffs. “There was deliberate and utter indifference to these girls.”
In a statement, UC Berkeley spokeswoman Janet Gilmore said officials would reserve comment on the lawsuit until they reviewed it. But she said a state audit found that Berkeley’s handling of sexual assault and harassment cases in 2013- 14 were “reasonable and that sanctions were appropriate given the severity of the incidents.”
The campus has also “made great strides” in beefing up efforts against sexual assault, Gilmore said. In the last year, Berkeley officials have barred students from enrolling until they take training courses in alcohol and sexual assault awareness, hired a confidential advocate to provide emotional support and help to students navigating the reporting process, increased investigators, strengthened com- plainant’s rights and created a support website, among other actions.
The efforts ref lect a broader campaign by UC off icials, who unveiled a systemwide plan last year to combat sexual misconduct amid pressure from the White House and federal authorities to do so. In the last three years, the U. S. Department of Education has launched more investigations than ever before.
The department is investigating Berkeley, UCLA, USC and several other private and public campuses after students f iled complaints with the federal agency alleging the schools mishandled their cases. Among them, 31 current and former Berkeley students filed two complaints against the university last year alleging officials for years have discouraged victims from reporting assaults, failed to inform them of their rights and led a biased judicial process that favored assailants’ rights over those of victims.
The three Berkeley plain- tiffs in the new lawsuit were among those who f iled federal complaints last year.
Sofie Karasek, 22, a senior, who alleged that she was fondled by a fellow student while she slept during a trip to San Diego with the UC Berkeley Democrats Club during her freshman year in 2012. She said university officials failed to properly inform her about the complaint process and keep her updated on the investigation, nor did they allow her to participate in a disciplinary hearing.
Aryle Butler, 21, a May graduate, accused a guest lecturer of repeatedly touching her inappropriately while she participated in the Alaska Wildlands Studies Program in summer 2012. In the lawsuit, she said she reported the alleged assaults to university officials but was admonished about the consequences of false reports and that no action appears to have been taken against the lecturer.
Nicoletta Commins, 23, a graduate student, re- ported to Berkeley police that a fellow student, Nicholas Liou, sexually assaulted her in her apartment in January 2012. Liou was convicted of felony assault, Zalkin said, and the university suspended him for more than two years but plans to allow him to return to campus; Commins believes he should have been expelled. Like the others, she also said university officials did not give her adequate information about the process or investigation.
Zalkin said that UC Berkeley’s recent actions to improve its handling of sexual misconduct cases were still not good enough. “Maybe a civil lawsuit will be a way to sensitize [ UC officials] to implement better policies,” he said.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for loss of educational opportunities, emotional pain and psychological distress.