A former student is alleging that a Fairmont State University football player sexually assaulted her after a fraternity party. And she’s alleging that even though the school concluded that he violated a policy regarding sexual assault, it offered to let him return.
The woman anonymously filed a federal lawsuit Oct. 25 against the university, her alleged attacker and the Fairmont State arm and national arm of Phi Sigma Phi fraternity.
Fairmont State President Mirta Martin and university Communications Director Jessie Sharps said Friday that the school has no comment at this time.
Shawn Head, Phi Sigma Phi's national director of crisis management and former national president, said the alleged attacker was a fraternity member but resigned the same month as the alleged incident -- as soon as the fraternity learned of the allegations and began an investigation.
“In this case, it sounds like the chapter took swift action,” Head said.
The website for Phi Sigma Phi's national arm says it has another chapter at Concord University, and it has begun establishing itself at West Virginia University.
The woman says that, just about two years before she filed her suit, she went to a party at the fraternity house near campus. She alleges the football player violently raped her after that party in an apartment next to her dorm. She was a 17-year-old freshman at the time, she says.
“Plaintiff was obviously traumatized by the incident and did not immediately know how and to whom at FSU she needed to report the incident,” the suit says.
Out of fear of seeing her alleged attacker if she left her dorm room, she failed her classes in the fall 2017 semester, she said.
An officer in her sorority reported the alleged sexual assault, and the university investigated, the suit says.
The suit says that in March of last year, Fairmont State told the woman that it had concluded that her alleged attacker violated the school’s policy regarding sexual assault, that he would be suspended for two semesters and that he would have to go through an unspecified type of counseling to be readmitted.
The woman’s lawyers argue Fairmont State violated the landmark federal Title IX law by offering her alleged attacker readmission.
Title IX protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs that receive federal money. The lawyers also argue Fairmont State bungled the investigation and hearing process.
The woman withdrew from the university at the end of her first year there because she said she feared his return and felt unsafe on campus.
She says she suffers, among other things, “physical manifestations of emotional distress,” and continues to have to pay for treatment, therapy and counseling after having lost money-earning capacity. She’s asking a judge to make the defendants pay monetary damages and provide any other relief that the judge deems appropriate.
Her lawyers write in the suit that “it was foreseeable that female invitees at the PSP-EZ fraternity house [Epsilon Zeta is the Fairmont State chapter] could be at risk of being sexually assaulted, particularly at social events where alcohol was served.”
The lawyers argue that the national and state arms of the fraternity had a duty to care for their guests, yet they didn’t take reasonable precautions to prevent fraternity members from “committing acts of rape or sexual assault, or fostering or enabling an environment in which a foreseeable act of rape or sexual assault would be committed.”
Head, the Phi Sigma Phi spokesperson, said “it's a little dubious to claim that the chapter has some personal liability, or the national chapter does, for a criminal act or intentional tort that occurred off campus, not at a fraternity function, not at a fraternity property."
The suit was filed in the U.S. Northern District of West Virginia and is assigned to Judge Thomas Kleeh.