UConn files response to lawsuit

HARTFORD, Conn. -- The University of Connecticut on Monday formally responded to a federal lawsuit that claims it reacted to reports of sexual assaults on its main campus in Storrs with deliberate indifference or worse -- an allegation it denies.

The lawsuit was filed by four women in November and was amended in December to add a fifth plaintiff. It alleges discrimination based on gender and retaliation in violation of Title IX, which guarantees equal educational opportunities to students at schools that receive federal funds. It seeks unspecified monetary damages and changes in university policies.

Monday's 38-page filing goes paragraph-by-paragraph in responding to the complaint.

"The University strongly denies that it acted with deliberate indifference to any of the plaintiffs," said Richard Orr, UConn's general counsel. "That is the basic legal claim underlying each plaintiff's allegations, and the university vigorously disputes that claim."

The school acknowledges several accusations made in the lawsuit, including that it failed to notify one of the plaintiffs, Kylie Angell, when it rescinded the expulsion of her suspected attacker. But it denies that she had reported the incident at the time as a rape. It also said it doesn't have enough information to confirm or deny her highly publicized allegation that she was told by a university police officer that women have to "stop spreading their legs like peanut butter."

"There are many other allegations for which we do not yet have enough information to respond -- as is common at this very preliminary stage of a lawsuit," Orr said.

The Associated Press does not normally use the names of those involved in sexual assault cases, but Angell is among four of the plaintiffs who have gone public with their allegations.

Two allegations involve complaints against athletes. The women's attorney, Gloria Allred, has said she believes the school's athletic culture contributed to the improper handling of those cases.

None of the men involved in the complaint ever faced criminal charges. The attacks allegedly occurred between 2010 and 2013, while the women were students at the school.

The school, in its filing, denies a police officer told one plaintiff that he did not believe her when she reported being attacked by a football player. It also denies that it never asked for the name of a hockey player who allegedly raped another plaintiff.

Orr said the school is constrained by privacy laws from publicly commenting on many of the women's specific allegations, but said it will be allowed to use student records in court to do that should the case go to trial.

Allred declined to comment Monday on the school's filing.

The women also have filed a federal Title IX complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, which is investigating.

The case also has prompted legislation at the state Capitol.

A group of lawmakers has said they will push for a bill that would require colleges to provide the victims of sexual assault with immediate information of their rights and options, would allow a victim to report an assault anonymously, require colleges to establish sexual response teams and partner with local sexual assault service providers.

The state in 2012 passed legislation requiring that schools implement protocols for responding to sexual assault complaints. Under that law, schools must create a plan for enforcing court-ordered protective and restraining orders, make campus disciplinary proceedings uniform and transparent, and provide students and employees with sexual assault awareness and prevention programming.

"In 2012, our focus was prevention and requiring policies at every college," said state Rep. Roberta Willis (D-Salisbury), co-chair of the legislature's Higher Education Committee. "This year the focus is about response."

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