November 09, 2009

Update: Jury Returns Verdict for University of Washington in Rape Case

The jury hearing the civil case against UW arising out of an alleged rape of a student by a football player has returned a verdict for the defendants. According to the Seattle Times, the jury found UW not liable on the narrow reasoning that the plaintiff's educational opportunities had not been sufficiently harmed because she remained in school, kept a high grade-point average, and graduated. Nonetheless, jurors sought to amend their verdict to include a statement scolding UW for its handling of the matter. Although she did not prevail, the plaintiff expressed satisfaction with the lawsuit. (Seattle Times.) The state appellate court decision in this case is likely to remain a published decision. (S.S. v. Alexander 143 Wn. App. 75; 177 P.3d 724; 2008 Wash. App. LEXIS 333 (2008).)

The implications for Organizational Ombuds in Washington State as a result of this case are significant. There is now legal precedent in Washington State for concluding that reporting discrimination to an Ombuds is sufficient to put a university on notice. There is now case law that permits the Washington courts to take evidence regarding mediation communications with a university Ombuds. Washington courts now have legal authority to find that a university may be liable for how an Ombuds handles a matter. In the future, Organizational Ombuds in Washington will have to convince the courts that their practice differs enough to avoid the reasoning of S.S. v. Alexander. Although there is some basis for such an argument (the UW Ombuds did not follow many of the standards of practice for Organizational Ombuds), it will be more difficult for Organizational Ombuds in the Evergreen State.

Prior posts: U Washington Faces Lawsuit Despite Mediation by Ombuds; Jury Deliberating University of Washington Rape Case.

Note: An individual claiming to be one of the jurors left a comment on the earlier post regarding this case.

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