Haskell counselor drops lawsuit, pursues federal whistleblower complaint instead

A sign at the entrance to Haskell Indian Nations University is shown Friday, Aug. 5, 2016.

A Haskell Indian Nations University counselor has dropped her federal Title IX lawsuit against the school, opting instead to pursue a whistleblower complaint through the federal government.

Angelina Adams has alleged she faced retaliation from Haskell administrators for advocating a rape victim’s Title IX rights. Adams last month filed a federal lawsuit seeking relief from Haskell, but that case against Haskell, the United States and U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has been dismissed at Adams’ request, according to U.S. District Court records.

Adams’ attorney, Dan Curry of Kansas City, Mo., said a lack of legal precedent spurred the decision.

Curry said he believes no one has ever sued a federal university — a type of entity of which very few even exist — under Title IX. While he thinks Haskell should be susceptible to such a suit, with no court precedent proving sovereign immunity wouldn’t apply, Curry said he expected appeals if Adams did win her case in U.S. District Court.

“We did not want to use Angelina as a test case and make her wait through the court of appeals process to get some kind of resolution,” Curry said. “I want Angelina’s case to be heard on the merits. I don’t want her to take the risk of not having any relief just because of a technicality that the United States will argue.”

After dismissing the lawsuit, Adams filed a whistleblower complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, Curry said. That office is a federal investigative and prosecutorial agency with authority over the federal Whistleblower Protection Act, among other areas.

Haskell is a federal university, the only four-year university operated by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Education, under the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, under the U.S. Department of Interior.

Adams’ lawsuit claimed she faced retaliation from Haskell administrators for advocating a rape victim’s Title IX rights.

The female Haskell student reported being raped by two male Haskell students November 2014 in a campus residence hall. Jared Wheeler and Galen Satoe were both charged with rape, had criminal trials end in hung juries, and are currently scheduled for retrials in Douglas County District Court.

As a Haskell counselor, Adams said in her lawsuit that she was assigned to help the victim with support services and academic accommodations following her rape report and as the lengthy criminal trials moved forward. She said Haskell administrators did not treat the victim fairly and unfairly demoted her when she tried to intervene on the victim’s behalf.

According to the lawsuit, Haskell administrators wrongfully accused Adams of going too far in her efforts to accommodate the victim, including conspiring with instructors and residential advisers and even moving the student into her own home. Haskell administrators then ordered Adams to have no contact with the victim, removed her from working with other students and removed her from on-call duties that provided a regular opportunity for time-and-a-half pay.

Adams’ lawsuit sought an unspecified amount of money to compensate Adams for damages and attorney fees, and Curry said she also wanted her old counseling duties back.

Title IX is the federal law that prohibits gender-based discrimination in education and the law under which universities are required to investigate and take measures to prevent sexual harassment, including sexual violence, on their campuses.

A separate federal Title IX lawsuit filed Oct. 24 by the female student, named as Jane Doe H, will proceed, Curry said. In that suit, the woman accused Haskell administrators of treating her unfairly after she reported her rape and also violating her privacy by unlawfully giving her counseling records to one man’s defense attorney without a court subpoena.

Curry said Jane Doe H’s suit alleges violations of Title IX as well as other parts of the law, including that Haskell deprived her of her constitutional right to due process.

According to her lawsuit, Jane Doe H withdrew from Haskell in spring 2016, as she was facing expulsion for a physical altercation with a different male student in a Haskell dorm.

Haskell officials previously have declined to comment on the pending lawsuits.