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Ex-student's Title IX lawsuit against MU dismissed

HUNTINGTON — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Marshall University that alleged the school’s mishandling of a Title IX case forced a student to permanently leave the university.

Judge Robert Chambers, of the U.S. District Court for Southern West Virginia, granted the university’s motion for summary judgment Tuesday, according to court documents. The full order has not yet been released.

Alicia Gonzales filed the lawsuit against the Marshall University Board of Governors in January 2018.

In February 2016, Gonzales reported to the Marshall University Police Department that Joseph Chase Hardin, now 22, sexually assaulted her in her campus dorm room, and, as required by federal law, the university began an investigation.

The lawsuit alleges that the university’s decision to allow Hardin to remain a student for months during a lengthy appeals process forced Gonzales to abandon her education at Marshall.

Hardin was indicted in Cabell County on sexual assault charges. However, in 2017, he entered a Kennedy plea to misdemeanor battery. On Friday, Cabell County Circuit Court Judge Alfred Ferguson revoked Hardin’s probation after he was indicted on four new charges of second-degree sexual assault.

In their motion for summary judgment, lawyers for Marshall said the lawsuit should be dismissed because Gonzales could not show that the university was deliberately indifferent, that its actions were clearly unreasonable in light of the circumstances known or that she was subject to a hostile environment.

In her lawsuit, Gonzales alleged that the university violated her rights under Title IX in various instances, including the time it took to reach a final decision in the matter.

In their response to Marshall’s motion, her representatives said the way the university carried out the Title IX process was inequitable and showed deliberate indifference, favoring Hardin over Gonzales. The response also quoted a Title IX expert who said many of the university’s policies were unheard of, such as tying the outcome of Hardin’s criminal case to the Title IX decision.

Because it had not received the judge’s order, Marshall reserved comment Friday, its communications director, Leah Payne, said.

The Gonzales family also was awaiting the final order before deciding if they will proceed with an appeal.

Earlier this year, the university settled a different lawsuit that alleged it mishandled a sexual assault case.

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