Dean Fired After Assault Controversy Has no Case
(CN) - The University of Iowa properly fired its dean of students based on his handling of sexual-assault allegations against two football players, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled.
Phillip Jones had been dean of students at the university since 1981 when a student athlete reported that she had sexually assaulted in a dorm room on Oct. 14, 2007.
The victim reported the assault to the Johnson County Attorney, who prosecuted the case. Shortly thereafter, the woman learned that a second perpetrator who lived down the hall from her had also assaulted her while she was unconscious.
Those men were ultimately convicted of assault with intent to commit serious injury and simple assault, respectively, but the victim claimed that she received little help from school officials.
Though Jones had discussed the assault with other university officials in the ensuing days, he took no action upon receiving the results of the athletic department's investigation. Since the report did not include a formal signed complaint, Jones placed it in a file and did not contact the victim.
In the meantime, the victim was enduring physical threats and verbal insults from football players and other athletes in the dormitory.
Jones told the victim's mother he could not take action without a complaint or specific information. He granted the victim a release from her housing contract and sent letters to those whom the victim had said retaliated against her.
The victim's parents complained to university officials that their daughter was "taunted, heckled, harassed for the entire school year."
The regents hired a law firm called the Stolar Partnership to investigate how the university handled the allegations. Stolar's report criticized Jones for failing to remove the two football players from the victim's dormitory and found his response to the retaliation to be "insufficient and ineffective."
In 2008, university president Sally Mason fired Jones, who had also served as
vice president of student services. She explained to the school's board regents that "failing a student who asks for our help is unacceptable."
Jones then sued the university, the board, Mason and Stolar for defamation and violations of his due process rights, among other things.
A Johnson County judge granted the defendants summary judgment, and the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed on Aug. 23.
"Jones was terminated due to Mason's loss of confidence in his professional abilities based on his handling of the sexual assault incident," Justice Bruce Zager wrote for the court.
As such she has immunity, according to the ruling.
"Instead of exercising his authority to commence disciplinary action against those harassing the alleged victim, Jones merely sent them letters informing them of the existence of the university's anti-harassment policy," Zager wrote. "Thus, the record evidence only demonstrates Jones' termination was based on a reportedly inadequate utilization of the policy to secure the rights and safety of the alleged victim.
Jones also failed to show that the Stolar report's description of him as uncooperative and angry reflects its reliance on common stereotypes about black men.
"None of the statements, which Jones contends evince improper stereotyping, were ever given as a reason for his termination," Zager wrote.
Furthermore, a white man who worked as the university's general counsel during the incident also lost his job because of the Stolar report, the court found.