Federal judge denies motion to dismiss former student’s complaint against university actions

Ashely Massey, current graduate student at UNA, organized a protest Aug. 24, 2017 to support survivors of rape and sexual assault. Protest pins were made for the Jane Doe protest and worn by protesters as they marched on campus. 

Federal judge Charles Lynwood Smith Jr. denied the University of North Alabama’s motion to fully dismiss a former student’s complaint that the university did not properly investigate her claim that a professor drugged and raped her on a school trip.

Here is a PDF of the judge’s full opinion

According to court documents, UNA’s motion stated that the university and the employees provided a sufficient amount of evidence for a judgment to be made without the case to move to trial.

Smith Jr.’s denial to dismiss Jane Doe’s complaint gives her attorneys more time to discover additional material evidence to counter the university and the defendants’ statements.

“Our client is pleased with the recent District Court’s opinion denying the university’s attempt to silence Jane Doe and dismiss her lawsuit,” said Doe’s attorney John Saylor. “The court’s ruling allows us to proceed with full and thorough discovery of all named defendants in an effort to uncover additional facts surrounding the university’s violations and poor decision making. Jane Doe is committed to aggressively pursing justice for herself and setting an example for other similarly situated women. She remains eager to hold the responsible parties accountable and to have her day in court.”

Smith Jr. did dismiss the claims made against the individual defendants in the complaint but not the university.

According to WAAY31, university officials said, “We are pleased that the court dismissed a number of claims against university administrators.”

David Dickerson is the professor Jane Doe said inappropriately touched, drugged and raped her at their hotel during a university-sponsored event Nov. 8, 2015 in Orlando, Florida.

In addition to the dismissal, the judge suspended the university’s motion to require Dickerson to join as a defendant in the case.

The university argued Dickerson should be held responsible since his actions are at the center of the lawsuit, yet Smith Jr. stated in his ruling that Doe’s claims are not aimed toward Dickerson – Her claims were against the university’s actions prior to his employment and after the incident occurred on the school trip.

He ordered the university to file a brief on or before April 5 that must address the current status of Dickerson’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charge and claim with the State of Alabama Board of Adjustment.

He said UNA would also need to provide copies of any supporting documentation and cite legal authority to support its argument.

Doe must file a response brief on or before April 12, 2019.

Dickerson filed a claim with the State Board of Adjustment December 2017 that stated the university denied his due process and “publicly defamed” him, which ruined his opportunity in academia. He is asking for $7 million worth of damages.

He claimed UNA owed him “$4 million for back wages and future earnings, $1.6 million for health insurance, $855,000 in supplemental pay for summer and interim session courses he would have taught, $453,000 in retirement benefits on wages he would have earned and unspecified ‘punitive damages to be decided’ for emotional distress, loss of earning capacity, loss of consortium,” according to The Times Daily.

Dickerson went on to work at Metropolitan State University of Denver as the International Business Director in the College of Business after his employment ended at UNA. Once MSU Denver discovered what happened at UNA, it launched an investigation and Dickerson was no longer employed at the university.

Three of the nine defendants named in the case, which were current UNA employees at the time of the incident between Doe and Dickerson, have since left the university for various reasons.

David Shields, former vice president of student affairs, resigned from his position July 18, 2018. After a university counselor diagnosed Doe with PTSD, she claimed Shields told her the university would “just call it an academic leave” when she requested to take a break from classes.

According to court documents, Shields submitted an email that did show he requested for a medical withdrawal March 10, 2016 through the registrar’s office. He claimed Doe’s transcript did not reflect a record of a medical withdrawal because he wanted to protect her privacy, and he was following university policies.

The university declined to allow The Flor-Ala to have Shields’ disciplinary and performance review records in his personnel file after the student newspaper submitted two freedom of information requests in July and August of 2018.

He said in his resignation letter that he was leaving UNA to pursue other opportunities.

Jerome Gafford, former assistant professor in the college of business, is also one of the three defendants that is no longer with the university. He stated in his declaration that he did not speak to Doe about any aspect of her accusations against Dickerson or the Title IX investigation.

According to the court documents, Doe claimed Gafford is the employee who told her the university did not do a proper background check on Dickerson, and he showed her a Washington Post article about the charges Dickerson had against him for raping and assaulting his 19-year-old wife. Those charges were later dropped against Dickerson.

And the third former employee, John Thornell, former provost and vice president of academic affairs, made the recommendation to President Kenneth Kitts to put Dickerson on administrative paid leave and to not renew his contract when it expired Spring 2016, according to Kitts’ declaration.