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Montana State University is accused in three pending lawsuits of failing to properly investigate sexual assault cases involving students and violating federal nondiscrimination statutes.

The lawsuits, brought by three unidentified “Jane Does” who were students at the time of their rapes, accuse the university of “deliberate indifference” and of violating Title IX requirements by failing to complete the investigations in a timely manner.

The three lawsuits were filed in the U.S. District Court in October 2019, March 2020 and July 2020.

While cases involving multiple Jane Does with similar claims are often filed in one suit, MSU petitioned to keep each lawsuit separate.

“I am not able to comment on any of the pending lawsuits against MSU because they are in active litigation,” said Veronica Procter, the Billings-based lawyer representing the three women.

Procter did say that Title IX, a federal civil rights law that prohibits institutions of higher education from discriminating on the basis of sex, applies to all institutions that receive federal funds, like MSU.

“Title IX is important because it requires universities to respond promptly and effectively to address any report of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct and actively take steps to prevent the same,” Procter said in an email to the Chronicle.

The lawsuits allege MSU failed to do so, resulting in harm.

MSU’s discrimination grievance procedures outlined in its allegations of violations of the discrimination, harassment, sexual misconduct, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking and retaliation policy states, “Typically an investigation will be completed within 40 days of receipt of the complaint unless it is necessary to extend the time because of the complexity of the case, availability of witnesses or other factors which unavoidably delay the investigation.”

While the details and circumstance of the sexual assaults – which occurred between Feb. 2017 and Sept. 2017 — outlined in the cases are different, the lawsuits allege the same kind of “deliberate indifference and failure to take timely action” by MSU’s Office of Institutional Equity.

“MSU acted with gender based discriminatory intent in failing to provide OIE with the resources needed to timely and effectively respond to complaints of sexual assault and harassment,” the lawsuits state.

Jane Doe No. 1’s lawsuit alleges that OIE took more than 10 months to investigate the student’s claim and another month to file its findings.

In the case of Jane Doe No. 2, the OIE took 18 months to complete its investigation after the initial report, the lawsuit said.

In Jane Doe No. 3’s case, OIE took more than six months to investigate, despite telling her the process would take about three months. She was advised, “she would have to wait for an investigator to be trained before the investigation would begin,” according to the filing.

“As a result of its failure to comply with its Title IX obligations, MSU unreasonably interfered with Ms. Doe No. (1, 2 and 3)’s access to educational programs at the University,” the lawsuits contend.

Jane Doe No. 2 said a fellow student, referred to as Student B in the court documents, raped her in February 2017. Jane Doe No. 3 said two people, Student B and Student C, raped her in August 2017. Student B refers to the same person in both cases.

“OIE was aware that three other women had accused Student B of sexual assault,” Jane Doe No. 2’s March 2020 court filing said.

The lawsuits outline how OIE’s handling of the investigations led to adverse consequences and harm to the women. Jane Doe No. 3 said she suffered from increased anxiety and attempted to suicide. Jane Doe No. 2 said she lost motivation and was unable to study or focus on classes, causing her school performance to suffer.

Jane Doe No. 2 and 3 are current MSU students, while Jane Doe No. 1 is a former student who “dropped out of school because of the rape and emotional/psychological effects thereof and her rapist graduated from MSU with no consequences,” according to the court filing.

Boone Karlberg P.C., a law firm based in Missoula, is representing MSU in the three cases. Natasha Prinzing Jones, an attorney with Boone Karlberg, declined to comment.

MSU spokesman Michael Becker said the university doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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