Five current and former students at the University of Connecticut reached a nearly $1.3 million total settlement with the school over allegations that their reports of sexual assault were mishandled.
In a joint statement, the women and UConn said they agreed to the $1,285,000 settlement to avoid legal proceedings that promised to be lengthy, expensive, and potentially painful.
“It was clear to all parties that no good would have come from dragging this out for years as it consumed the time, attention and resources, both financial and emotional, of everyone involved,” Lawrence McHugh, chairman of the UConn board of trustees, said in a statement.
Gloria Allred, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, called her clients “courageous” and said they were “very happy” with the settlement.
“Our clients are moving forward with their lives in a positive manner with full knowledge that they have made a difference,” she said in a statement. “I hope that other students who are victims of sexual violence on college campuses throughout this nation will hear about the positive results in our case involving UConn and be inspired and encouraged to report rape and sexual assault.”
The women had sued under Title IX, a federal law mandating gender equality on campus, saying the school had discriminated and retaliated against them for reporting alleged sexual assaults.
Former UConn hockey player Silvana Moccia, who said she was kicked off her team after telling the school a male hockey player raped her in August 2011, will receive most of the settlement, $900,000. The other four women, Kylie Angell, Erica Daniels, Carolyn Luby, and Rosemary Richi, will get payments from $25,000 to $125,000.
As part of the settlement, the women acknowledged that the school has since taken steps to improve its prevention of and response to sexual assaults, including providing better training for staff and students and forming a special victims unit within its Police Department.
Under the deal, the women must now retract their lawsuit; UConn said it still “categorically” denies their allegations but will continue to cooperate with federal investigators who are looking at the school’s practices.
Three other students who were not parties to the lawsuit have similar complaints against UConn pending before the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
McHugh said that following the settlement, UConn hoped to become a leader in preventing and responding to sexual assaults and added, “Sexual assault is a horrific crime, and we are so sorry that anyone has to go through that experience, especially when they are our own students.”
In addition to prompting reform at UConn, the well-publicized case also helped prod Connecticut lawmakers into passing campus sexual assault legislation earlier this year.
“We believe it’s the strongest sexual assault prevention bill in the country,” state Representative Roberta Willis, who helped draft the law, said in an interview. “We tried to respond to every nuance that came out of their story. It guided us; we learned from it.”
Willis thanked the women for coming forward and decried what she described as a persistent culture of “victim-blaming.”
“As a woman, it’s very discouraging and disappointing that that kind of response still exists in 2014,” she said.
The UConn settlement is the latest chapter in what advocates have called a nationwide crisis of sexual assaults on college campuses.
In May, the federal Education Department published a list of nearly 70 US colleges and universities it was investigating for potentially violating Title IX. Six Massachusetts schools appeared on the list: Amherst College, Boston University, Emerson College, Harvard University’s undergraduate college, Harvard Law School, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
A 2011 letter from the department’s Office for Civil Rights expanded the interpretation of Title IX’s protections, saying sexual assault on campus deprives victims of their “right to receive an education free from discrimination.”