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Saturday, June 15, 2024 | Back issues
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Travelers Wants Pass in Missing-Student Suit

LINCOLN, Neb. (CN) - The Travelers Indemnity Company of Connecticut and Travelers Property Casualty Company of America claim that agreements to represent a state college in Nebraska were invalidated by Title IX violations committed by the school, namely that the college's failure to prevent the rape and murder of a female student constitutes gender discrimination.

In a federal complaint filed Wednesday, the two insurance affiliates seek an order that would release them from obligations to defend and indemnify Peru State College against allegations that the college failed to protect student Tyler Thomas from harm.

Thomas faced sexual harassment on campus from a fellow student, Joshua Keadle, before disappearing in December of 2010. Keadle lived on the same floor of a dormitory building as Thomas and was the last person to see her alive.

It is widely believed that Keadle raped and murdered Thomas, although he has not been charged. He is, however, serving prison time for raping another teen.

The latest twist in this high-profile case features Travelers looking for an escape from the controversy.

Travelers has represented Nebraska State Colleges' board of trustees in a complaint brought by Latanya Thomas on behalf of her daughter's estate.

In its contract action this week, however, Travelers cites a stipulation in its insurance agreements with the state college that excludes coverage for incidents that involve intentional or unintentional discrimination.

As the Thomas lawsuit seeks damages for violations of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, the insurance companies seek an order that would excuse them from further involvement.

"There is no duty to defend or indemnify the board under the Travelers polices in connection with the Thomas lawsuit because the causes of action asserted against the board seek damages resulting from or as a consequence of discrimination against Tyler Thomas based upon her sex," the complaint states.

The complaint adds that under Title IX, "sexual harassment of students, which includes acts of sexual violence, is a form of sex discrimination."

Meanwhile, the Tyler Thomas murder investigation has been mired by the fact that her body cannot be located. The case remains open after nearly four years, hence the fact that no charges have been filed against Keadle in connection with Thomas' disappearance.

Keadle is currently serving 15 to 20 years in state prison for the 2008 rape of a 15-year-old girl at Midland Lutheran College in Fremont, Neb.

Additionally, he previously had charges of sexual assault dropped in the town of Auburn, which is near Peru State College. Before that he was charged with indecent exposure in Norfolk, yet another Nebraska town.

Peru State was allegedly aware of Keadle's history as a sex offender when he was admitted to the college and placed on a dormitory floor where both men and women lived, Travelers says.

"The board had notice of sexual harassment of female students by Keadle prior to Tyler Thomas' abduction, rape, and murder and the board knew of outrageous conduct, criminal activity, and misrepresentation by Keadle prior to Dec. 3, 2010," the most recent complaint states.

In a lawsuit filed in December 2012, Thomas' mother claimed that Peru State, among other state government bodies, failed in their duty to protect Thomas.

"Defendants were negligent in failing to adequately investigate the background of Keadle and to discharge him or prevent him from entering Peru College System as a student knowing he posed a danger to other female students on campus," the mother said.

In fact, an amended complaint filed in the Thomas case, one that seeks damages under Title IX, apparently led to the insurance companies to take this latest turn.

Travelers seeks a judicial decree confirming their interpretation of the discrimination exclusion in their contract with Nebraska State Colleges' board of trustees.

Stephen L. Ahl of the Lincoln firm Wolfe Snowden represents the plaintiffs.

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