The plaintiff was a former equipment manager for the football team. She claims that a consensual sexual relationship with Roc Alexander became increasingly abusive and culminated in an assault. Months later, the plaintiff went to the UW athletic department and reported what had happened. She was advised to step down from her position with the team to avoid harassment by any of the players. Refusing, she agreed to attend a three-hour mediation overseen by the University Ombuds, where she asked that Alexander be suspended from the football team. The plaintiff alleged that at the conclusion of the mediation, the Ombuds "decided that Alexander would undergo counseling and perform community service." The plaintiff also claimed that, although the UW has a program for sexual-assault victims, the Ombuds did not refer her to that program.
In interviews with Seattle Times, the plaintiff said the mediation was "totally biased" against her. "I think that's the thing that has stuck with me -- how [the mediation] was run and the lack of outcome." The current UW Ombuds said Monday that the UW no longer uses mediation in cases of alleged sexual assault. (S.S. v. Alexander, No. 58335-2 (Wash. Ct. App., Feb. 11, 2008); Seattle Times; Seattle Post-Intelligencer.)
The procedural posture of the case dictated that the appeals court assume the plaintiff's version of facts to be true in order to address the legal sufficiency of her claims. These facts will therefore be challenged and tested in the trial court. Nonetheless, this case is sure to raise concern among ombuds and mediators. Here are the
- The UW Ombuds has a mandate to assist in protecting students' rights, is charged with the authority to receive complaints from students, and may recommend redress by the University President when the Ombuds has been unable to resolve the matter;
- The decision to conduct the mediation was made by the Ombuds, the Athletic Director, and the Assistant Athletic Director;
- The Ombuds did not disclose on-campus or off-campus resources to the plaintiff;
- The Ombuds revealed details of her conversation with Alexander to the plaintiff before the mediation;
- Mediation communications by the parties and the Ombuds/mediator came in to evidence (with no consideration of Washington's statutory mediation privilege);
- The mediation was resolved by a decision by the Ombuds/mediator and the Assistant Athletic Director;
- After the mediation, the Ombuds/mediator dictated a written statement for the plaintiff, acknowledging the matter was closed; and
- The Ombuds was an "appropriate official" for purposes of notice under Title IX.
Ombuds can take some solace in the apparent fact that the UW program does not conform to IOA Standards of Practice and thus is not an Organizational Ombuds per se. In particular, the mandate for the UW Ombuds specifically prevents it from being neutral, impartial, and informal. Moreover, the UW Ombuds disclosed communications that Organizational Ombuds would consider confidential. However, since the court did not recognize these distinctions, this is small comfort.