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Doe v. University of North Texas Board of Regents

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Sherman Division

June 2, 2017

JANE DOE
v.
THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH TEXAS BOARD OF REGENTS, PRESIDENT NEIL J SMATRESK, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          AMOS L. MAZZANT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. #32). After reviewing the relevant pleadings and motion, the Court finds the motion should be denied.

         BACKGROUND

         This case arises from an alleged sexual assault on Jane Doe (“Doe”) by Derek Rankins (“Rankins”) a former adjunct-professor of the University of North Texas (“UNT”) and full-time employee at UNT's library. Plaintiff reported the assault to Denton police who conducted a Sexual Assault Nurse Examination (“SANE”) exam and took samples to conduct a toxicology test. Throughout Plaintiff's investigation, Denton police retained custody of the SANE exam and of Plaintiff's toxicology results.

         That same day, Plaintiff reported the assault to Rodney Mitchell (“Mitchell”), Junior Dean of UNT. Mitchell directed Plaintiff to file a report with the Office of Equal Opportunity (“OEO”), gave her his cell number, set up a safe room in the Santa Fe Dorm, and arranged a police escort for Plaintiff to and from her safe room. Mitchell told Plaintiff that the Santa Fe Dorm was temporary and that she would have to either move back to her apartment or begin to pay on February 2, 2015.

         On January 13, 2015, Mitchell took Plaintiff to the OEO to meet Senior Investigator Kelly Gould (“Gould”). Plaintiff informed Gould of what happened and formally filed her complaint. Gould told Plaintiff that the investigation would be completed in forty-five to sixty days. According to the current Vice President of the OEO, there must be a compelling reason to keep an investigation open longer than forty-five days and the parties must be notified of that reason.

         During Plaintiff's investigation, Gould was the OEO's only investigator. Gould had about ten investigations open at the time of Plaintiff's complaint. This was her first sexual assault. Gould officially began FMLA leave in late April 2015, but missed several days beginning in early March. Gould was on FMLA leave for about four weeks.

         On January 16, 2015, Gould contacted Interim Vice President for Community Engagement, Dr. Jean Keller (“Keller”), regarding Rankins. Gould and Keller then contacted the library and decided to reassign Rankins's adjunct duties that were set to begin on January 20, 2015. The same day, Gould interviewed Rankins and informed him of the complaint. Rankins claimed that he had consensual sex with Plaintiff. Later that day, UNT sent a written notification of the complaint to Rankins memorializing the meeting and allegations against him. Meanwhile, Plaintiff met with Mitchell and told him that she saw Rankins on a sidewalk on or near campus while she was on the bus.

         On January 17, 2015, the Interim Dean for the College of Visual Arts and Design sent Rankins a letter informing him that his adjunct position had been reassigned and ordering him not to enter the art building or Oak Street Hall. Gould claims that she immediately informed Plaintiff of this decision. However, Plaintiff claims that she was not told until mid-February.

         Although UNT reassigned Rankins's adjunct position, he remained a full-time employee in the library. Rankins was assigned to the scanning lab in the back of the library's third floor. Restrooms are not located in the scanning lab. The only restrooms are located in the stairwells in the corners of the building. Rankins did not have to clock in and his hours were flexible, as long as he did forty per week.

         Classes began on January 20, 2015. That same day, the Dean of Libraries Martin Halbert informed Rankins, once again, that he was not to enter the College of Visual Arts and Design building unless authorized to do so by the college. Throughout the semester, Plaintiff was depressed and fearful of running into Rankins. She stopped attending classes regularly and avoided the library where she knew Rankins worked. The first week of school, Plaintiff needed to go to the library to complete an assignment because her books were not in, but she did not go because she feared an encounter with Rankins. Plaintiff informed Gould of this. Rankins also had friends who attended classes in the art building with Plaintiff. One friend in particular, Jeremy Chavez (“Chavez”), would stare at Plaintiff in a way that made her feel uncomfortable and threatened.

         Plaintiff also began withdrawing from social activities because she feared running into Rankins. Plaintiff confined herself to her apartment, not leaving for several weeks at a time. One night when Plaintiff did go to a local bar, a stranger approached her and asked probing questions about her assault and investigation until she began to cry. Plaintiff reported this incident to Gould, but did not hear anything further.

         At the end of the semester, Plaintiff sought Mitchell's help in obtaining “incompletes” in her classes. Mitchell was not available for two weeks in late April and early May. UNT did not assign a new advocate for Mitchell's absence. Ultimately, Plaintiff was unable to obtain “incompletes” because of her many absences. As a result, Plaintiff's grades declined.

         During Gould's leave in late April and May, UNT hired two people to finish Plaintiff's investigation. First, UNT hired Jared Davis (“Davis”) in May 2015. Davis reviewed Gould's work, but did not interview any witnesses or Gould about the investigation. Davis finished his investigation on May 29, 2015. That day, Davis met with Plaintiff and her attorney. Plaintiff's May 29 meeting was the first time that UNT informed her as to why the investigation took longer than 45 days. On June 1, 2015, UNT hired Joann Woodard (“Woodard”) as Vice President of OEO. Woodard ...


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