An appellate court lawsuit alleging Ohio University turned a blind eye to the sexual assault of a minor by a police officer has led to a legal question about whether Title IX protections extend to non-students attending university-sponsored events.
The Post does not name people who report sexual harassment or assault unless they give permission. The woman in the original criminal case was raped repeatedly in multiple locations, including on university property, by Robert Parsons, a police officer employed by OU, when she was a minor in high school. As a result, Parsons was convicted of Unlawful Sexual Conduct with a Minor under Ohio law.
A Title IX complaint was brought against the university in which the woman’s legal counsel reasoned OU gave Parsons access to her at a 2005 career day event where he later raped her.
“In addition to the event described above, Parsons used every University resource available to him to gain access to (the woman) and other minors,” according to the appellate brief. “He raped (the woman) repeatedly in his University-issued cruiser and while he was in uniform.”
After lower courts granted OU’s motion to dismiss a Title IX claim, an appeal was made by the original survivor in 2019. An appellate brief was filed Feb. 3 of this year.
OU argues the woman lacks the standing to file a Title IX claim, as she was not a student at the university at the time of her assault. The university is also claiming the complaint does not meet the standard of “deliberate indifference” needed to file a claim under Title IX.
The appellate brief argues OU was aware of Parsons’ history of sexual misconduct previous to sexually assaulting the woman. In 2000 and 2001, Athens County Children Services conducted an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against Parsons with a minor.
“Defendant Ohio University was deliberately indifferent to Parsons history of sexual abuse of minors, including (the woman), and was deliberately indifferent in their response to reports concerning Parsons’ sexual abuse of minors,” according to the first amended complaint document.
Currently, the appeal brings about debate as to whether or not Title IX protections extend to non-students attending university-sponsored events.
“If the District Court’s decision is not reversed, non-students participating in activities at American colleges and universities would not be entitled to Title IX protection,” Michael Fradin, the survivor's counsel, said in an email. “It’s disappointing that OU has not only adopted a litigation strategy focused on victim shaming (the woman) but has also decided to lead the charge to try to narrow Title IX’s applicability.”
Fradin is referring to the deposition made in the Ohio Court of Claims in which the woman was questioned about past abuse, self-harm and sexual history.
In regard to her family history in the deposition, the woman was questioned about if her father was an alcoholic and if he ever emotionally or physically abused her. The university did not provide a comment about why these questions were relevant to the claim.
“The University swiftly and appropriately addressed the concerns now raised by plaintiff almost 15 years ago upon learning of the allegations that an employee was being investigated for potential improper conduct with a minor who was not associated with the University,” Carly Leatherwood, a university spokeswoman, said in an email. “Ohio University is committed to the protections afforded under Title IX. However, as the federal district court has ruled, even accepting all of plaintiff’s allegations as true as required at that stage of the proceedings, the claim fell outside of the scope of Title IX. Ultimately, this is a disputed matter for the courts. The University is represented by the Ohio Attorney General. We have no further comment at this time.”
Though the university claims Title IX does not apply, the appellant brief makes a case for the close relationship the university has with Federal Hocking High School, the school the woman attended. According to the first amended complaint made by Fradin and the woman, Federal Hocking High School students were permitted to take classes at OU. The complaint also said OU uses Federal Hocking Secondary School as a site for programs.
“The close relationship between the university and the high school unquestionably facilitated (the woman’s) continued abuse, and so she has Title IX standing under this test,” according to the appellant brief.
The university argues because the woman could not show “she was a student at an education institution receiving federal funds,” Title IX does not apply. OU also cites cases which rule a “potential student” or recruit is not able to file a Title IX claim.
However, in the woman’s response to OU’s motion to dismiss the complaint, she argues the previous decisions cited by the university do not apply because she was not a recruit or prospective student.
An immunity hearing for Parsons will be held in the Court of Claims on April 1. OU has until March 22 to file its appellee brief in response.