Woman sues Lenoir Rhyne University over handling of 2015 rape accusation

CATAWBA COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - A woman has filed a federal lawsuit against Lenoir Rhyne University after she says the university failed in handling rape accusations that she brought against another student.

The lawsuit was initially filed in Catawba County court last month but was moved to federal court Wednesday.

The suit, which was filed on behalf of a "Jane Doe" claims she was raped in January 2015 in an on-campus dormitory and Lenoir Rhyne (LRU) failed to take appropriate action in the case. She also claimed the male student she accused was "known to LRU to have sexually assaulted other students before the night in question."

According to the lawsuit, Jane Doe knew the male student as they were both on the school's track and field team.

In January 2015, Doe says she was celebrating her birthday with friends when the student, described as a three-scholarship athlete and freshman class president, invited them via Snapchat to join him and friends in his dorm room.

Both students lived in Morgan Hall, on the university's campus, but on different floors. According to the suit, male and female students live on separate floors and are not allowed on the opposite floor past midnight.

Doe claims that friends eventually left the dorm room, leaving Doe and the male student alone. That's when she says he sexually assaulted her.

According to the lawsuit, Doe left his room and "began to wander aimlessly through the hall" and added that she was "in shock." Doe reportedly stumbled into a friend's dorm room, visibly in pain saying "it hurts, it hurts" and was bleeding.

That's when the lawsuit claims the friend called the dorm's resident adviser, who called the resident director (RD) and recommended that Doe "get some rest."  The RD reportedly woke up Jane Doe around 3:36 a.m. and began to question her and other witnesses and then searched the dorm room.

Doe was reportedly told to go back to bed, but police were not contacted. After insistence from friends, the RA contacted the head of campus housing, according to the lawsuit.

Because she was still suffering from "excessive bleeding," Doe took herself to Frye Regional Hospital. Medical officials called Hickory Police to report the incident.  Doe was released from the hospital but had to return for continued bleeding.

According to the lawsuit, the male student was allowed to continue living in the same dormitory and she would see him "on a periodic basis, during which [he] would grin at her and on one occasion questioned her. These episodes of being taunted by her assailant caused Plaintiff to experience great fear for her personal safety as well as additional shame and humiliation."

The university reportedly conducted a student disciplinary hearing but allowed the male student to continue living in the dorm during the proceeding. The hearings resulted in a one-year suspension from the school, but he appealed the suspension.

After the appeal, he was "finally not allowed to remain on campus. Until this time, he continued to engage in taunting and intimidating behavior toward Plaintiff," the lawsuit states.

Doe says the student's friends continued to ridicule her after the incident and the student's photo was displayed on the athletic and academic honors board in the sport's lobby where Doe had to go for practice. Doe reportedly requested on numerous occasions that the photo be removed but says no steps were taken by LRU.

According to the lawsuit, Doe suffered "great psychological injury" and her grades began to drop and in December 2015 she was suspended for academic performance and not allowed to participate in sports.

Eventually, according to the lawsuit, Doe lost her athletic scholarship and had to return to her home in England in March 2016. The lawsuit claims she "continues to suffer from the psychological impacts of the assault, which continue to affect her ability to work, pursue an education, and otherwise enjoy her life."

Doe is suing the school for gross negligence, negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, breach of implied warranty of habitability, violation of Title IX of the Educational Act of 1972 and breach of contract. She is asking for a trial by jury, in the case.

WBTV reached out to Doe's lawyer Thursday who said he was unavailable to comment on the case right now.

Officials from Lenoir Rhyne were also contacted about the lawsuit and released the following statement Friday afternoon:

The safety and well-being of our students, faculty and staff is of the utmost importance to Lenoir-Rhyne University. The University has absolutely no tolerance for sexual misconduct of any kind.  Lenoir-Rhyne has comprehensive policies that strictly prohibit sexual misconduct, detailed procedures for investigating and adjudicating any alleged incidents of sexual misconduct and well developed programs of education for its faculty, staff and students regarding sexual misconduct awareness and prevention.

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