Alleged Rape Victim Says UNC-Chapel Hill Barred Attorney from Grievance Proceeding
(CN) - The alleged victim of a violent sexual assault at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill says the university bungled its investigation of the incident and is unlawfully barring her attorney from participating in her grievance proceeding against the school.
In a lawsuit filed in Orange County, N.C., UNC student Jillian Murray says she was sexually assaulted by a classmate on the night of Jan. 12, 2013, at which time she was 18 years old. Three days later, she says, she reached out to nonparty Dean Blackburn, the associate dean of students, by email, requesting information about the rights of sexual assault victims in the university system.
Despite the university's having a sexual misconduct policy in force at the time of the incident, spelling out the procedures for reporting and responding to reports of sexual misconduct and harassment, Murray says it took the dean 20 days to respond to her email.
When he finally did respond, on Feb. 4, 2013, "he indicated to Plaintiff by email that her request 'simply got lost in [his] inbox,'" Murray says.
Even then, she says, his response was to tell her she's be contacted by another member of the university's staff. Desiree Rieckenberg, Associate Dean and Student Complaint Coordinator, would contact her in the next 24 hours.
Murray says, "Weeks thereafter, on or about February 22, 2013, Plaintiff was allowed to meet with Dean Rieckenberg. Dean Rieckenberg informed Plaintiff that the Defendant's Title IX grievance system was in a 'state of transition' and that she would 'tell someone appropriate and get back in touch' with Plaintiff."
But at no time, she says, did Dean Rieckenberg provide her with the university's sexual misconduct policy or advise her of her rights under the policy.
In the end, "Dean Reickenberg never contacted Plaintiff," Murray says.
"Plaintiff, traumatized by her assault and by the Defendant's lack of response to her allegations, became despondent and depressed, the result of which was that she was unable to complete the spring semester at the University," she says.
Murray says she told her parents about the assault and the university's failure to address it in January 2014, and that it was these experiences that caused her depression and withdrawal from school. When she and her parents called the school, "Plaintiff was informed that Defendant did not regard her reports as 'a formal complaint' under its Title IX policy."
Murray then filed a formal complaint and an investigation ensued. However, she says, rather than having a prompt investigation of her claim, investigators took 108 days from the time of her complaint to complete their work. Their report found "good cause" to proceed with an "Informal or Formal Resolution of the complaint."
"On Friday, July 11, 2014, Professor Robert P. Joyce sent an email to Plaintiff to inform her, inter alias, that 1) he had appointed himself chair o her grievance procedure, 2) he had appointed Clair McLaughlin, an undergraduate student who had little Title IX training, no legal training, and who was spending her summer in the Philippines (where she had only intermittent internet access), as Plaintiff's 'advisers,' and 3) pursuant to 'Section V.E.2 of the Policy' Plaintiff was entitled to 'have a support person present in addition to [the] appointed advisor. That support person may be an attorney," Murray says.
However, two weeks later, Murray says, the university began to try to limit her attorney's involvement in the case, sending her a Notice of Procedures Governing Student Grievance, that stated an attorney can only be present as a support person and is not entitled to receive communications on behalf of the student he represents.
"The email also states that an attorney or 'Support Person may, if you wish, address the Panel and question witnesses other than the opposing party ..." (Emphasis in court document.)
On July 29, 2014, attorney Henry C. Turner notified the university that he is representing Murray in the grievance procedure and requested that all correspondence to her be directed to him.
Later that day, Bernard Burk, the new chair of the grievance panel, sent an email directly to Murray, but not her attorney, informing her "It is the practice under the University's Title IX Policy for the Panel Chair to communicate with the parties, and, if requested, their Advisors. Panel Chairs do not communicate directly with any attorney ..."
All subsequent requests that Turner participate fully in the proceedings have been uniformly rejected by the university, Murray says.
She seeks a temporary restraining order, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief enforcing Title IX's requirements that if the accused is allowed representation by an attorney, she be allowed to be represented by one as well.Murray's attorney, Henry Clay Turner, is with McSurely & Turner of Chapel Hill, N.C.