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UMaine System facing lawsuit after not following Title IX laws

The University of Maine System (UMS) is currently facing a lawsuit for its alleged failure to comply with Title IX regulations concerning the safety of a University of Southern Maine student who reported she was sexually assaulted on two different instances, once by a former student, in January 2012.

The plaintiff contends that she “suffered ‘extreme emotional distress that required medical treatment,’” after the University of Southern Maine did not take the proper steps to keep the plaintiff safe by allowing the first assailant, a former student, to remain on campus after the assault.

According to a statement issued by the UMS’s General Counsel, the university is “reviewing state laws that restrict law enforcement agencies from sharing information about sexual assault with university officials to determine whether these laws hinder campus officials, who are responsible under Title IX for supporting students who are victims of assault, from obtaining all information about the police reports necessary to fully respond.”

According to the same statement, the university “will review [its] findings with the State Attorney General’s Office and State Legislature if changes to Maine law appear to be necessary to give campus student affairs officials better access to information about sexual assaults reported to the police.”

When an incident of gender discrimination (i.e., sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, sexual misconduct) is reported at UMaine, one of the university’s four highly-trained individuals who are certified through the Association of Title IX Administrators (ATIXA) conduct interviews with the individual making the complaint before determining if a Title IX violation indeed occurred.

“They would also then determine any sanctions that would occur,” Elizabeth Lavoie wrote in an email. As the Deputy Title IX Coordinator, and an annual ATIXA trainee, Lavoie’s role is to be a “neutral party.”

Incidents reported to Lavoie are done so in privacy, but not in confidence. “If the student prefers to speak with someone confidential they do not have to continue meeting with me,” Lavoie wrote. Students also have the option of meeting confidentially with the Counseling Center, which sees the amount of patients using its services increasing every year, or with Rape Response Services.

“I can make any living, academic, or classroom accommodations. I can get people connected with services such as getting a sexual assault kit, filing a police report, student conduct complaint, a protection order, safety planning, et cetera,” Lavoie wrote.

The other Title IX investigators on the UMaine campus are Kenda Scheele, Scott Helmke and David Fiacco.

Fiacco is Director of the Office of Community Standards, Rights and Responsibilities, and is responsible for Title IX complaints in their relation to the Student Conduct Code. He personally has a complicated legal history which forced him to resign as the Director of Public Safety at Fort Lewis College in Colorado, but also has “a temporary restraining order secured against him by a former girlfriend,” according to U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals documents.

Fourth-year student Adya Plourde is a volunteer at the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) and former intern for the Deputy Title IX Coordinator for the Fall 2017 semester at the Office of Sexual Assault and Violence Prevention. When referencing the process in which individuals go about filing formal Title IX complaints, she said, “I was the intern for some time, and I still don’t even fully understand the process of making a complaint.”

Many have alleged that if Title IX complaints are not congruent with what is in the university’s Student Conduct Code, they are considered inactionable and therefore are not dealt with formally.

“You want these people to do well, and you want to feel valid in your concerns, but they’re ultimately bound by university protocol,” Plourde said.

The lawsuit comes as two separate UMaine faculty members were put on paid administrative leave for allegations of sexual misconduct. Many on campus think that the university did students an injustice by not mentioning sexual harassment in its official statements given by the university’s Division of Marketing and Communications. The university maintains that English professor Robert Brinkley and former chair of the Theatre and Dance department Tom Mikotowicz did not violate any university policies. “UMaine is so big. It’s like: who will protect us?” Plourde said.  


Editor’s Note: This article has been edited from its original version.

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