A former Augustana College student has filed a federal lawsuit against the school alleging that, after Grace O’Shea reported an assault to the college, it took retaliatory actions against her.
The lawsuit, which demands a jury trial, names the college and five people as defendants. Title IX is a federal civil rights law passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972.
“In order to stand up for herself and other sexual assault survivors,” Grace O’Shea filed the suit in federal court, says her attorney, Nicole Gorovsky, attorney/owner, of the St. Louis-based Gorovsky Law, LLC, in a news release.
“Grace O’Shea had hoped her College would do the right thing, but Augustana’s Title IX process turned out to be retaliatory and discriminatory toward women and gender violence survivors,” Gorovsky says in the release.
The former student filed the suit “in hopes that this betrayal by the college, this discrimination from a community that was supposed to protect her does not happen to someone else,” Gorovsky says.
The lawsuit alleges that after O’Shea reported to the college she had been assaulted, the college took retaliatory actions against her.
“College administrators further took her through a discriminatory process that did not end in any resolution and the perpetrator remains an Augustana student,” Gorovsky says in the release.
“Augustana has historically silenced the survivors as they empower the perpetrators, and it’s time for them to be held accountable,” O’Shea says in the release.
According to Gorovsky: “Augustana had opportunities to be equitable and fair to the students in this case. Instead, it chose to discriminate and retaliate against O’Shea for reporting that she had been abused. Augustana chose to prevent O’Shea from having an education free from sexual harassment and gender discrimination.”
Gorovsky Law is a civil-litigation law firm specializing in the representation of survivors of sexual abuse and assault, bullying and other abusive acts.
According to the lawsuit itself, O’Shea says on or about April 15, 2018, she was sexually assaulted by someone visiting Augustana as a prospective student at a bar in Rock Island where she was extremely intoxicated.
Augustana College responds
“We care about our students deeply, and we serve students fairly and equitably,” says a statement from the college. “Our actions are guided by our mission, values and our community principles. And the press release you received does not reflect what we know to be true about the college or our policies prohibiting sex discrimination on campus.
“Augustana College is committed to preventing sexual violence and sex discrimination. We have carefully drafted policies and robust procedures in place to respond to reports of sex discrimination, and our responses to reports are in accordance with these policies.”
“Augustana is firmly committed to the safety and security of our students, and we continually work with our students, faculty, staff and others in the Augustana community to provide a safe and respectful learning environment,” the statement continues.
“Augustana reviews its policies and procedures frequently to ensure they reflect the latest guidance from the U.S. Department of Education and the needs of our campus,” the response continues. “We hold ourselves to a very high standard. In 2019, the college received a Moxie Award from the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault (ICASA) for our efforts to improve the response to victims of sexual assault and develop prevention programming on campus.”
“While we will not comment on the particulars of any pending litigation, we remain confident in the college’s practices and procedures, and we felt compelled to share this information in response to the misstatements in the press release.”
At the end of January 2018, College President Steve Bahls released a statement outlining the college’s plans to address issues of sexual assault. The Augustana Sexual Assault Task Force, a collaboration between administration, students and faculty, was among the initiatives after students voiced concerns about the way sexual-assault cases were managed on campus.
At that time, Local 4 News spoke with two women who, along with other students, were speaking up after a report of sexual assault at an off-campus event that New Year’s Day. One woman told Local 4 that, in 2015, she was assaulted by three other students in her dorm room.
Local 4 News will continue to report details about this developing story.