July 18, 2012

Federal Appeals Court Dismisses Lawsuit that Involved Southern Illinois University Ombuds

Last week the U.S. Appellate Court dismissed a lawsuit filed by a student employee against Southern Illinois University. The student alleged a hostile work and educational environment, and retaliation. The decision recounts how the SIU Ombuds was involved in efforts to resolve the student's complaints.

Case Title and Citation: Milligan v. Bd. of Trs. of S. Ill. Univ., 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 13997

Court: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit Date of Decision: July 10, 2012

Summary of Decision: The plaintiff was an undergraduate student employed in a chemistry department stockroom in October 2007. He alleged that an emeritus professor touched him inappropriately and made multiple sexually harassing comments. The student and his parents complained. In response, the university took several actions, including investigating the professor, assigning the student to a different stockroom, prohibiting the professor's contact with students, imposing a sexual harassment training requirement for the professor, and, ultimately, banning the professor from campus. The trail court granted summary judgment (which is a ruling based only on the plaintiff's allegations of facts) in favor of the university. The appellate court upheld the decision.

Relevance of Ombuds: According to the court's decision, Lynn Connley, an SIU Ombuds, counseled the student and served as an intermediary between the student and his parents, and the university. Just a few weeks after the underlying incidents and after the student had complained to university administrators, his parents contacted Lynn Connley, an SIU Ombuds, to inquire about the investigation. Connley checked in with a senior administrator, but before Connley could call the parents back, the administrator contacted the parents directly. The description of the Connley's activities was based on the testimony of the senior administrator.  (Justicia; Illinois Association of School Boards.) 

Note: Connley retired in 2010.

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