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AG seeks public identification of plaintiff in Weber State harassment trial

By Mark Shenefelt - | Sep 7, 2021

BRIAN WOLFER, Special to the Standard-Examiner

This photo taken June 24, 2020, shows Weber State University from Harrison Boulevard.

OGDEN — Attorneys are sparring in federal court over whether a woman suing Weber State University for alleged sexual harassment should be publicly identified if the case reaches trial.

The Davis County woman, identified only by the pseudonym Jane Doe in U.S. District Court documents, filed a civil rights suit in May 2020, alleging she was subjected to racial and sex discrimination and sexual harassment and misconduct over a six-year period beginning in 2011. The former psychology student alleged Weber State downplayed and obstructed her complaints against a professor.

In April this year, the Utah Attorney General’s Office, which is representing the university, filed a response to the suit, denying many of the allegations and faulting the professor and the woman on some matters.

The state also informed the court it had made a settlement offer to the woman and her attorney, Brian K. Jackson of Bountiful. However, settlement talks were inconclusive and the case is headed toward trial.

State attorneys on Aug. 10 filed a motion in the Salt Lake City court asking Judge Tena Campbell to rule that the woman’s name must be disclosed on the record during pretrial discovery and at trial.

Any requirement that her name be withheld would interfere with the university’s ability to deal with witnesses, document sources and people giving depositions, the state said. Plus, “use of a pseudonym at trial risks implicitly influencing a jury,” the state said.

Jackson responded with a counter-motion Aug. 24 asserting the woman’s name “can only be revealed in these proceedings if the revealing of the name remains off the record and assists a witness in responding to a discovery request or questioning during trial.”

He defended the use of a pseudonym, saying it is necessary to “protect a sexual assault victim’s privacy.” Public disclosure of her name amid the “highly sensitive and personal nature” of the case could put her “in danger of physical harm,” Jackson said.

The state argued, however, that federal court rules mandate that civil actions be made “in the name of the real party in interest.” The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, whose jurisdiction includes Utah, does allow plaintiffs to proceed so in limited situations, such as cases involving sexual matters. “Such orders permitting use of a pseudonym are typically temporary and limited to use during the preliminary stages of litigation,” the state said.

The state also contended that the 10th Circuit rule requires a plaintiff to get the court’s permission before filing under a pseudonym, which it said did not happen in this case. The state followed up Sept. 1 with a motion asking Campbell to dismiss the case because of that failure.

The suit alleged the school’s Title IX compliance office initially disregarded a complaint the woman lodged about a different professor she said improperly quizzed her about her Mexican heritage.

Then, after the student received counseling and therapy from the psychology professor from 2013-17, she filed a Title IX complaint against him for alleged improper therapeutic techniques and unethical behavior.

She also filed a report with the Ogden Police Department, accusing him of improper physically intimate touching. The Davis County Attorney’s Office reviewed the case and declined to file charges.

The suit quoted from a May 2, 2019, report by an Attorney General’s Office investigator that concluded the professor’s conduct toward the woman “was more than likely unwelcome (and) was more than likely severe (and) ran the risk of creating a hostile environment.”

The woman also is not named in this story because the Standard-Examiner does not normally identify victims of sexual assault.

The story in addition does not include the name of the former professor, who is not a defendant in the lawsuit and has not been charged with a crime. The professor resigned on Jan. 15, 2020, according to the suit.

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