Student Calls Professor a Rapist & Predator
OXFORD, Miss. (CN) - A high school teacher lost his teaching license after a 16-year-old girl accused him of rape, but Rust College in Mississippi hired him anyway and he forcibly raped a student in his office, the woman claims in court.
Jane Doe sued Rust College and former professor Sylvester Oliver, in Federal Court.
Doe also claims the college president threatened to fire anyone who cooperated in the investigation or litigation involving her rape.
Rust College is a historically black liberal arts college in Holly Springs, Miss., 35 miles southeast of Memphis.
Doe says in the lawsuit that Rust College hired Sylvester twice. It let him resign after a student accused him of sexual improprieties, then he lost his teaching license for similar behavior in Memphis, then Rust hired him back and he raped Doe, she says in the complaint.
"In its student handbook, defendant Rust College touts itself as a church-related institution 'committed to the moral and social tenets prescribed by the United Methodist Church' and warns that 'any students engaging in extra and pre-marital sexual intercourse will be subject to disciplinary action,'" the complaint states. "The student handbook further states that situations involving sexual morality are in direct conflict with the college's mission. Regrettably, this language is not included in the institution's faculty handbook but by reasonable implication extends to the faculty of Rust College in its interactions between faculty and students."
Colleges and universities for years have struggled with policies on teacher-student sex, as most college students are legally adults. One retired college vice president told Courthouse News that most colleges prefer to sweep the issue under the rug.
"Professors would bust a gut if we told them what they could do on their own time," the longtime college administrator said.
In her lawsuit, Doe claims that Rust College allowed Sylvester to resign after he was accused of having "an inappropriate sexual relationship with at least one female student." Sylvester then went to work for Memphis City Schools, but was fired and lost his teaching license after a 16-year-old girl accused him of raping her, Doe says in the complaint.
Then, she says, Rust College hired him back.
"Oliver was employed with defendant Rust College in the early 2000's as a professor," Doe says in the lawsuit. "During his initial tenure, defendant Oliver had an inappropriate sexual relationship with at least one female student at defendant Rust College, and was informally asked to resign from his position.
"In 2005, defendant Oliver was hired by Memphis City Schools in Memphis, Shelby County, Tenn., to serve as a teacher at Northside High School. During his tenure at Northside High, a 16-year old student reported that defendant Oliver molested her in a vacant classroom of the school.
"Following a full investigation of the 16-year-old's report of rape, which included statements of several students and a review of school security tapes, defendant Oliver was terminated by Memphis City Schools. Pursuant to Tennessee law, defendant Oliver was afforded the legal opportunity to be represented by counsel and appeal the firing and the underlying basis of the firing therefore. He ultimately chose not to pursue appeal.
"On January 26, 2006, Memphis City Schools notified the Tennessee State Board
of Education's Office of Teacher Licensing and informed them that defendant Oliver had been terminated as a result of being accused of raping a student. A copy of the January 26, 2006 correspondence is attached hereto as Exhibit 1 ..."
Nonetheless, Doe says, Rust College rehired Sylvester. She was a Rust student in the 2012-13 school year, she says, and on Sept. 7, 2012, "while attempting to seek advice from defendant Oliver, plaintiff was forcibly raped in his office on defendant Rust College's premises by defendant Oliver."
Doe says that "(s)hortly after the rape," she reported it to the college and to the Holly Springs Police Department. But the college did not fire Sylvester, she says.
"On October 2, 2012, defendant Oliver was indicted by a grand jury in Marshall
County, Mississippi for sexual battery," Doe says in the complaint. "Following his arrest, defendant Oliver voluntarily resigned his faculty post at the college."
Doe continues: "Based on investigation and belief, this is not the first time that defendant Oliver has sexually assaulted and/or forcibly raped a female student at Rust College.
"In fact, defendant Oliver is not the only male employee of defendant Rust College who has sexually assaulted a student or other employee at Rust College.
"David Beckley, president of Rust College, has communicated to faculty, staff, and employees of Rust College that anyone who cooperates in the investigation and/or litigation of claims arising out of plaintiff's rape will be terminated.
"Throughout his tenures at defendant Rust College, defendant Oliver used the college as a 'hunting ground' for victims of his perverted desire for sexual gratification."
Doe claims the college fosters an environment in which male professors can sexually assault students and colleagues and get away with it.
She claims Rust College turned a blind eye to Oliver's sexual exploitation of students, failed to discipline and report him to authorities, and concealed his pattern of sexual misconduct.
She seeks compensatory and punitive damages for sexual battery, vicarious liability, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violations of federal law.
She is represented by Ursula Holmes with The Cochran Firm of Memphis.
Rust College Vice President Ishmell Edwards told Courthouse News the school cannot comment on pending litigation.
"Safety of our students is a primary concern of our college," Edwards said. "We are very proud of our record and we will continue to focus on serving our students while maintaining the safety of our campus community."