In secret agreement, KU paid $200,000 to student who claimed sexual assault by theater professor
photo by: Mike Yoder
Story updated 4:22 p.m. June 11, 2018
A former University of Kansas student who said his theater professor sexually assaulted him was the recipient of a $200,000 settlement payout by KU, newly obtained documents reveal.
Although not admitting wrongdoing, KU paid the sum to the student in exchange for him dropping his federal Title IX lawsuit against the university, according to a confidential settlement agreement signed in August 2017.
“In order to avoid the expense and uncertainty of litigation in this matter, the parties choose voluntarily to enter this Agreement,” the document says.
The Journal-World filed an open records act request for documents that would reveal the reason and recipient of the payment, and the newspaper received those documents on Monday. The Wall Street Journal reported the payment last week, on a list of sexual harassment settlement payments made by universities nationwide in recent years.
The student, using the pseudonym John Doe 58, sued KU and the theater professor in March 2017 in U.S. District Court in Kansas. At the time the lawsuit was filed, the professor, identified only by initials, was no longer employed by KU.
The student’s lawsuit accused KU of failing to adequately respond and investigate, and then retaliating against him when he reported the sexual assault, the Journal-World reported when the lawsuit was first filed.
According to federal court records, the case was scheduled for mediation in July 2017. In October, a few months after signing the out-of-court settlement agreement, both sides agreed to dismiss the case with prejudice, meaning the same claims can’t be brought again.
The settlement agreement obtained by the Journal-World orders both sides to keep it secret.
“The parties agree to issue no press releases regarding the Settlement Agreement or its terms, nor will the parties discuss the Settlement Agreement or its terms on Social Media,” the document says. “If the parties are asked about the terms of the Settlement Agreement, the parties may respond only ‘no comment’ or ‘the matter has been resolved.'”
However, the agreement notes that as a government institution, KU is subject to the Kansas Open Records Act and could be required to disclose the agreement under that.
“However, KU agrees that it will resist such Open Records Act requests to the full extent of its rights and the law,” the agreement adds.
KU released the settlement agreement — with only names redacted — within days of the Journal-World’s request; however, university officials declined to comment or answer further questions about it.
University spokesman Joe Monaco said only, “This matter has been resolved.”
The Journal-World reached out to the plaintiff’s attorney, Rebecca Randles, of Kansas City, Mo., Monday afternoon but did not immediately receive a response.
The Journal-World previously reported:
The lawsuit stems from the spring of 2015 when one of Doe’s professors, in a theater class, allegedly “showed a high level of interest” in Doe and invited him to his home for dinner, according to the lawsuit. The professor told Doe additional students were also invited, but when Doe arrived at his professor’s home, he was the only student there, the lawsuit says, and the professor was intoxicated.
The professor then “sexually assaulted” Doe “by forcefully kissing him and grabbing his genitals,” the lawsuit claims.
Doe reported the alleged assault to KU’s Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access, which is responsible for investigating such claims, the lawsuit says.
Though an investigation was launched it was “inadequate and never completed,” the lawsuit contends. Throughout the process, Doe claims the investigators “engaged in victim blaming and victim shaming” instead of looking into the allegations.
The same student, in the same lawsuit against KU, also alleged that he later enrolled in a movement class where a fellow male student made inappropriate sexual comments, stared at his body and at one point touched him inappropriately. Doe also claimed that the university failed to take action when he reported this harassment, and that an instructor instead referred him to counseling services where he was counseled about “homophobia and anger.”
Doe was ultimately forced to leave KU in the spring of 2016, his lawsuit claims, and he suffered from suicidal thoughts, panic attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other things.
The theater professor, in KU’s answer to the allegations filed in federal court, said that he did invite the student to his home but denied any sexual assault took place. The professor also denied the student’s allegations that he was a “sexual predator” and had ever sexually assaulted anyone else.
The settlement agreement between KU and the student has a few other orders.
In one, the student agreed never to seek readmission to KU again.
In another, KU agreed to require a department — the name of which is redacted — to undergo additional Title IX training.
“This Agreement represents a compromise of disputed claims,” the settlement says. “The parties to this Agreement agree that nothing herein is an admission by any party of any wrongdoing.”
Including the $200,000 paid to the student in the theater professor case, KU paid more than half a million dollars total to former students in 2017 to settle Title IX lawsuits.
The Journal-World first reported in December 2017 that KU paid two former rowers $395,000 to drop their Title IX lawsuits against the school.
The women separately sued the university, both claiming it failed to adequately respond to their reports that they were sexually assaulted by a football player and then retaliated against by their coaches after reporting what happened to them.
After a federal judge then dismissed the highly publicized lawsuits in late November 2017, the Journal-World filed an open records request to obtain the out-of-court agreements revealing payouts of $245,000 to plaintiff Daisy Tackett and her attorneys and $150,000 to plaintiff Sarah McClure and her attorneys. Neither KU nor the plaintiffs would comment further on the settlements, saying only that the matters had been resolved.
In addition to the three payments totaling nearly $600,000, KU also made two small ones, The Wall Street Journal reported in response to its inquiries about sexual harassment settlement payments made in 2016 and 2017.
One was an August 2016 payment of $1,645 to “students accused of misconduct” and the other was a November 2017 payment of $50 to “unknown,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
The Journal-World also requested, and on Monday received, documents from KU to explain those payments.
The $1,645 was to refund a semester’s tuition for a male student who allegedly sexually assaulted another student off campus and, following a KU investigation, was suspended in fall 2014, according to a resolution agreement provided by KU. After serving his suspension the student later re-enrolled at KU and agreed to drop his related lawsuit against the university.
The $50 payment went to the female rowers and their parents to resolve a related lawsuit they brought against KU, claiming the university violated the state consumer protection act by falsely advertising that its dorms were safe. According to the related settlement agreement provided by KU, each of the five plaintiffs in that case was awarded $10.