A Moravian College student will go to trial in the fall for her federal civil lawsuit against the school for violation of Title IX. The student did not feel supported by Moravian College after having to continue living in close proximity to her alleged attacker. (Ellie Raycroft/B&W Staff)

Trial date set for Moravian sexual harassment lawsuit

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UPDATE: On July 30, 2019, both parties agreed to settle the lawsuit, foregoing further trial.

A female Moravian College student filed a federal civil lawsuit last August against the school for violations of Title IX after she was allegedly sexually assaulted in the alleged rapist’s dorm on Aug. 28, 2016.

The trial date has been set for Oct. 28, 2019*, at the Holmes Building in Easton, Pennsylvania. It is being heard through the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

According to the lawsuit, the student, who is identified as Jane Doe, was forced to attend classes and continue living in the same dormitory as her alleged attacker “over a period of months.” The student was victimized, the suit says, as her only options offered by Moravian throughout this time were to either drop her classes or to move out of her dorm — but the school never considered making the alleged rapist move classes or dormitories.

Doe is suing for five counts against Moravian and two against the individual alleged rapist for $150,000 per count for a total of over $1 million. She is suing for assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress against the alleged rapist, and hostile collegiate environment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence against Moravian, among other charges.

The lawsuit alleges that the rapist was an international student who arrived at Moravian in August 2016, thereby committing the alleged rape later that same month he started school. The alleged rapist was expelled following the rape, the lawsuit states.

Doe alleges that the rapist was intoxicated and followed her into her friend’s dormitory building. He asked Doe to take a walk with him, which she consented to do, believing it would be good for the intoxicated defendant.

But prior to taking the walk, the alleged rapist asked for Doe to wait for him while he grabbed something from his room, then asking her to enter his room. Doe agreed, and as soon as she entered his room he allegedly shut the door and pushed her on the bed.

After the alleged rape, Doe escaped the room and had a conversation with her male residence assistant (RA), who allegedly heard the screams and protestations of Doe. The RA allegedly told Doe that he wasn’t going to report the incident because there was “a lot of paperwork to fill out,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit said the RA was allowed to continue in his position after Moravian was informed of the matter. The RA was then reappointed the next semester and the following year.

The lawsuit also alleged that Leah M. Naso Breisch, Moravian’s Title IX coordinator, did not immediately encourage Doe to file a report once she learned about the incident. When Doe attended a counseling appointment at the school, she was allegedly told that nothing could be done since the assault was “just anal” and that Doe entered the alleged rapist’s room willingly.

At Moravian’s Title IX hearing of the case, the lawsuit said that the alleged rapist pleaded the Fifth Amendment so as not to incriminate himself.

A settlement conference will be held on May 29 before Magistrate Judge Marilyn Heffley at the U.S. Courthouse in Philadelphia. If both parties can reach a resolution on this day, the case will not proceed to a jury trial.

Since the case has been in litigation, Moravian has filed two motions to dismiss. Both were denied in December 2018.

Upon the second motion to dismiss, Judge Edward Smith wrote, “While the court doubts that the state law claims filed against Moravian College are likely to survive a motion for summary judgment, the court is constrained by the standard of review applicable to a motion to dismiss,” according to federal court documents.

“My client Moravian College has denied any liability to the plaintiff, and we intend to vigorously defend this matter,” said Paul Lees, an attorney who represents Moravian.

Both Moravian and Bethlehem police declined to comment. Doe’s attorney, Eleanor Breslin, did not return repeated requests for comment.

Breisch, who started her position as Moravian’s Title IX coordinator and compliance officer in October 2016, could not comment on the specific case. She did offer information about Moravian’s policies involving sexual assault.

“As every other institution in the nation, we will continue to evolve our policy and process to adapt and comply with new federal rule-making that is forthcoming,” Breisch said in an email. “Student safety, equity and continued access to the learning environment will remain paramount.”

Moravian and Lehigh campus safety reports 

Breisch said results of the 2018 Moravian College Sexual Violence Campus Climate Survey indicated that although there were a higher number of sexual misconduct cases reported at Moravian, on a national level, there were less of these such cases actually occurring at Moravian.

With a student population of 2,377, there were 17 cases of rape on campus at Moravian between 2015 and 2017, according to Moravian’s campus crime statistics.

Lehigh, with a population of 7,017, reported four cases of rape involving students that occurred on campus between 2016 and 2018.

Breisch said that Moravian has a “unique… strong culture of reporting” and a relationship of trust between students and administrators.

“This culture of reporting has been under active cultivation since the implementation of our Advocates program 10 years ago, and more recently through the creation of the Title IX office in October 2016,” Breisch said.

The Brown and White spoke with five Moravian students on the condition of anonymity about their views on sexual assault and the reporting climate at the school.

One student said they feel “about an eight” on a scale from one to 10 regarding how comfortable they would feel reporting a sexual assault.

Another student, who wished to be identified as Anna, said she would feel very comfortable reporting sexual assault at Moravian. Another said they would not feel comfortable reporting sexual assault, but not because of the environment at the school.

“Moravian as a community encourages people to speak out for themselves or on behalf of others, and they offer the resources to get help,” one of the students said.

Another Moravian student praised the options a student would have should someone want to report an incident.

“There is not just one place that you have to go, so if you don’t feel comfortable talking to one person, then there are definitely other people you could go to,” one student said.

In the 2017-2018 academic year, Karen Salvemini, Lehigh University’s Equal Opportunity Compliance Coordinator, received 236 reports, 32 percent of which were sexual misconduct, and 18 percent of which were harassment. Overall, 149 of the 236 total reports were based on the characteristics of sex.

The report also revealed that of the 236 incidents, undergraduate students were accused 33 percent of the time. Faculty and staff combined to make up 24 percent of the total number of people accused.

Lehigh has conducted a series of climate survey studies from 2015-2017, and has another survey in progress.

“We have definitely seen growth in the knowledge about where to report,” Salvemini said. “In general, since I have started working here, the number of reports has increased dramatically. In 2017, people seemed to be doing a really nice job identifying where to report, such as LUPD and myself, which was definitely not the case in 2015.”

*UPDATE: The trial will commence on Jan. 27, 2020, in Easton, rather than the original trial date of Oct. 28, 2019, according to Judge Edward Smith.

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