Chapel Hill, NC- A female student who blew the whistle on University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s mishandling of sexual assault cases have filed a federal suit alleging she was retaliated against for speaking out.
This is the third federal investigation for UNC-CH since January when the controversy over their handling of several incidents of sexual assault surfaced.
Landen Gambill, who was allegedly sexually assaulted by a fellow student, began to speak at rallies and with the media this past January after joining five other women in suit against the university. Gambill was thrust into the national spotlight after blowing the whistle on UNC’s inappropriate handling of her and other student’s sexual assault and harassment complaints.
In their suit, Gambill and her co-complainants allege they were victims of sexual assault, but university officials failed to properly investigate the allegations or take appropriate action against the offender. This lawsuit, which initiated two of the three investigations against UNC-Chapel Hill, alleges the women were subjected to a hostile environment and incidents of sexual misconduct on the campus went underreported, the Huffington Post said.
In March, UNC accused Gambill of violating the honor-code. The student-run honor court found that Gambill created a hostile environment for the man who allegedly assaulted her. The News Observer reported that Gambill could have been expelled from school, but the charges were later dropped, after an investigation.
After the honor court’s decision, UNC-CH hired an independent investigator, Barbara Lee, a professor from Rutgers University, to look into Gambill’s retaliation claims. Lee concluded there was no retaliation against Gambill, but uncovered issues with the honor code court.
Gambill’s attorney Henry Clay Turner told the Huffington Post, “Retaliation doesn’t always have to be bad acts; it can be a failure to act.” Turner believes the retaliation claims are worth investigating further despite Lee’s conclusions.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights will investigate the Gambill’s allegations of retaliation. In Turner’s letter to the OCR, be alleges the University retaliated against Gambill when the honor-ode court charged her with “disruptive or intimidating behavior” against her harasser and whether housing her attacker in a nearby dorm room was an act of retaliation.
In April, after Gambill was charged with the honor-code violation, the Department of Education sent out a letter reminding Universities not to retaliate against whistleblowers.
The University of North Carolina is just one many universities who have been accused of allowing sexual harassment and assault to persist on their campuses. Ivy League university, Yale, along with the University of Montana has faced allegations that they did not adequately investigate rapes, assaults and sexual harassment.
After the DOE concluded an investigation into the allegations against the University of Montana, they sent out a letter that created quite a controversy. Civil rights advocates accused the DOE of trying to restrict free speech by redefining sexual harassment as “any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” including “verbal conduct,” even if an “objectively reasonable person of the same gender in the same situation” would not perceive the behavior as offensive. This stringent definition of harassment is intended to protect students from inappropriate sexual behavior.