MSU Wild

A student leaves the Strand Union Building on Feb. 18 on the Montana State campus.

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Two lawsuits accusing Montana State University of failing to properly investigate sexual assault cases involving students reached a settlement out of court and have been dismissed.

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

A joint settlement conference for the cases of both Jane Doe 2 and Jane Doe 3 was held on Feb. 1, according to court filings. The cases were closed on March 1, but the details of the settlement were not made public.

A spokesman for MSU said the university does not comment on pending, in-process or concluded litigation.

Veronica Procter, attorney representing the Jane Does, did not respond to request for comment by press time.

Previously, Procter said 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 October.

The lawsuits alleged MSU failed to take appropriate action on reports from three women, resulting in harm. Three lawsuits were filed in the U.S. District Court in October 2019, March 2020 and July 2020.

The first Jane Doe suit was closed after a motion to dismiss was filed on Dec. 31, 2020. Judge Sam Haddon on January 4 dismissed the suit with prejudice, meaning another suit cannot be brought by the same person on the same allegations again. Both parties were required to pay their own fees.

The other two suits involving Jane Doe 2 and Jane Doe 3 went through a closed settlement session on Feb. 1. On March 1, Judge Haddon dismissed the case involving Jane Doe 2 and Judge Brian Morris dismissed the case involving Jane Doe 3. Both cases were dismissed with prejudice with each side required to pay their own costs and attorney’s fees.

Although the details and circumstances of the sexual assaults involving the Jane Does — which occurred between Feb. 2017 and Sept. 2017 — are different, the suits alleged similar violations of Title IX and accused MSU’s Office of Institutional Equity with “failure to take timely action.”

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

Under the Trump administration, former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos oversaw controversial Title IX rule changes that increased protections for students accused of sexual harassment.

Although the Biden administration has promised to strengthen Title IX protections for victims, it could take up to two years. Universities also spent more than a year changing their own Title IX rules to match federal requirements under the Trump administration.

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

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