Iowa State Settles Lawsuits Over Sexual Assault Case

Aug 6, 2018

Iowa State University has settled two lawsuits filed by an African-American woman who was fired from her position as head of the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Title IX coordinator.

The suits involved the university’s handling of a case of sexual assault.

One suit filed in U.S. District Court in Des Moines and another in federal court in Iowa’s southern district claim Robinette Kelley was prevented from enforcing civils rights regulations on campus under Iowa’s Civil Rights Statute and under the federal government’s Title IX. 

Title IX bans sex discrimination by any entity receiving federal funds, including inadequate treatment of sexual assault cases.

In her lawsuits, Kelley alleges university administrators resisted when she brought complaints from students, including the 2015 case of a female student who was sexually assaulted.

The suits claim the university did not provide alternative housing for the victim who continued to be housed in the same dorm as her alleged assailant.  

In other instances, Kelley said administrators did not provide her with the necessary resources to enforce Iowa Civil Rights law and Title IX.

As an African-American woman, Kelley claims the university was guilty of gender and race discrimination and retaliation when they fired her.  

The State Appeal Board Monday approved a $125,000 settlement for the plaintiff and her attorneys. 

ISU Director of University Relations John McCarroll said the settlement does not admit wrongdoing.

“The university specifically denies that it discriminated or retaliated against Ms. Kelley in any way,” McCarroll wrote in a statement.  “The settlement allows both the university and Ms. Kelley to move forward in a more positive way while avoiding the significant costs associated with further litigation.”

Kelley was represented by the Newkirk Zwagerman law firm, which recently won a $6.5 million gender bias settlement against the University of Iowa.

“Robin Kelley filed this claim to help raise awareness of the importance of an independent Title IX coordinator and how that role impacts a university’s ability to response to the systemic problem of sexual assaults on colleges campuses,” her attorney, Thomas Newkirk, said in a statement provided to Iowa Public Radio.    “To ISU’s credit, ISU appeared to listen to our efforts to educate on how to reduce the risks and improve university responses to sexual assaults.”  

Robinette was employed at Iowa State from 2013 through 2015.  She was the first person to hold the position of director of the Office of Equal Opportunity.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights dropped one of its investigations at Iowa State, also involving a female student who was sexually assaulted.