OpenCDA

November 26, 2016

Update: Title IX Federal Lawsuit Targets NIC

Filed under: Probable Cause — Bill @ 3:33 pm

casewatchOn September 22, 2016, former North Idaho College (NIC) student Reina Rodriguez filed a federal lawsuit (District of Idaho case number 2:16-cv-430) in Boise.  The initial Complaint and Demand for Jury Trial alleges that while she was a student at NIC in 2013, Ms. Rodriguez “… had been gang raped by three male students at an off-campus event.”  It further alleges that NIC failed to respond to her initial reports in compliance with various requirements of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 USC § 1681(a), commonly referred to as “Title IX”.

The initial reports by The Spokesman-Review and the Coeur d’Alene Press did not identify the plaintiff by name even though she is identified in public record court filings.

Both skews paper reports stated the alleged rape had been investigated by the Coeur d’Alene Police Department and that the Kootenai County Prosecuting Attorney had declined to prosecute.  That misses the point.

The validity of Ms. Rodriguez’s federal Title IX lawsuit is not dependent on the filing of any state criminal charges or even on her making a complaint to law enforcement.

The crux of the lawsuit is whether NIC timely and fully complied with the statutory requirements of Title IX when it learned of Ms. Rodriguez’s allegations of sexual violence.

That is important to the community at large, not just to Ms. Rodriguez.  NIC receives state and federal money.  Its Trustees are elected officials.  The public is entitled to know if its elected Trustees and school administrators are complying with applicable laws or if some laws are being selectively and preferentially enforced or ignored.

That may be even more important at NIC where, during times relevant to this lawsuit, one of the Trustees was a sworn Idaho police officer, a sergeant,  whose department conducted the investigation of the alleged rape.   As noted in ¶ 24 of the plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint and Demand for Jury Trial filed on November 15, 2016:

On information or belief, Christie Wood, an elected trustee to the North Idaho College Board of Trustees had personal knowledge of the sexual assault by virtue of her role as sergeant with the Coeur d’Alene Police Department.

But if the criminal investigation and prosecution (or lack of one) is not critical in Ms. Rodriguez’s lawsuit, why would Wood’s dual roles matter?

Here’s why.

To whom did Wood owe her allegience if the public’s interest in a diligent criminal investigation and prosecution proved to be incompatible with the financial interest of NIC?   Which master did she serve?  She took an oath when she was sworn in as a police officer, but she took a similar oath when she was sworn in as an NIC Trustee.   Did police sergeant Wood exert any influence on the conduct of the police investigation and prosecutor’s charging decision to either the benefit or detriment of NIC?  Did Trustee Wood provide other Trustees or NIC administration with law enforcement-sensitive information to the detriment of Ms. Rodriguez’s Title IX protections?  We don’t know the answers, but we would not be surprised to see these questions raised in some form at trial in front of the jury. 

For a good discussion of campus sexual violence being addressed as crimes as well as civil violations of Title IX, see the Regent University Law Review reports from the Symposium:  College Culture, Sexual Violence & Due Process, Volume 28, 2015-2016, Number 2.

The plaintiff’s original complaint alleged NIC had failed “… to adapt its policies and procedures in response to the guidance issued by the April 2011 Dear Colleagues Letter.  Here is a copy of that Letter.  Additionally, here is a copy of the US Department of Education’s Fast Facts Sheet issued to help explain the April 2011 Dear Colleagues Letter.  Finally, here is a copy of the US Department of Education’s Know Your Rights publication intended to be used to enable schools to inform students about their rights under Title IX.  We suspect NIC’s application of these materials will be raised at trial.

OpenCdA hopes that in future reporting, both The Spokesman-Review and the Coeur d’Alene Press will take the time and make the effort to better inform their readers about Title IX and its application at NIC.

In conclusion, we commend Reina Rodriguez for her tenacity to go forward to not only expose the predatory sexual violence allegedly committed against her but also for her commitment to reduce or eliminate the chances of it happening to other women associated with NIC.  We were happy to see that she is represented by the Boise law firm of Fisher Rainey Hudson whose practice areas specifically include Title IX.

3 Comments

  1. NOTE: Federal Judicial District of Idaho case number updated 12-01-2016

    Comment by Bill — December 1, 2016 @ 6:23 am

  2. I did not read the federal update, but after reading the CDA Press, today … it is pretty easy to understand exactly why the college decided to settle. No need to drag big names thru the mud when you can settle for for a lot less.

    Comment by Stebbijo — December 1, 2016 @ 4:21 pm

  3. Stebbijo,

    I just checked, and there is nothing on PACER after the amended complaint. I presume the next document will be the judgement entered by the Court. Doubtful it will contain any new details.

    The complaint and amended complaint alleged that NIC had failed to follow the procedures prescribed in Title IX. Even though NIC says the settlement is not an admission of guilt or wrongdoing, it amounts to exactly that. If Ms. Rodriguez’s initial complaint to NIC in 2013 been properly documented and handled, there would have been no guilt or wrongdoing to admit nor likely any lawsuit to settle.

    The absence of any criminal prosecution is not explained in the skews article, however Ms. Rodriguez did not report the rapes to the police until about three months after the incident. That interval would have reduced the quality and quantity of any physical evidence available to investigators (likely no rape kit), so proving a case against one or all the perpetrators would have been very difficult. But again, if NIC had properly handled the complaint when it was first reported to the school in November 2013, a successful criminal investigation might have been possible.

    Here’s another question: Since NIC apparently decided to ignore the sexual violence reporting requirements of Title IX in 2013, what other provisions of Title IX might NIC also have been ignoring? Are women receiving equal educational opportunity in athletic programs at NIC?

    Comment by Bill — December 1, 2016 @ 4:54 pm

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