OGDEN — State lawyers have responded in federal court to a former psychology student’s allegations that Weber State University downplayed and obstructed her sexual harassment complaints against a professor.
The 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 Utah Attorney General’s Office, which represents the university in the case, filed a formal answer to the suit on April 27 and also notified the court it had made a settlement offer to the woman and her attorney.
The answer denied many of the allegations and faulted the professor and the woman on some of the matters alleged.
The suit alleged the school’s Title IX compliance office initially disregarded a complaint she 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 actions violated the university’s discrimination and harassment policy, the report concluded, according to the lawsuit.
A follow-up report by an assistant attorney general concluded the professor violated a policy that “clearly precludes amorous or sexual relationships where there exists a power imbalance in the relationship,” the lawsuit said.
In addition, that report quoted alleged recorded comments in which the professor acknowledged his therapeutic relationship with the woman “got too close.” He said further that “there were feelings of arousal for both of us” and that the contacts “felt inappropriate.”
After the university provost recommended the tenured professor be put on leave without pay for one year, the woman complained and filed a formal complaint with the Faculty Board of Review. The board ultimately determined the discipline against the professor was insufficient and that termination was required, according to the suit.
The professor resigned on Jan. 15, 2020, according to the suit. He was not named as a defendant in the suit and has not responded to requests for comment on the case.
Weber State, the attorney general’s answer to the suit said, “denies any implication that it was required to initiate an investigation into (the professor) before Doe filed her formal complaint.”
The state also served notice it intended to assign fault to the professor. In civil suits, juries often are asked to apportion percentages of fault to any parties thought to be liable.
“The factual and legal basis on which fault can be allocated are that (the professor) intentionally caused injuries to the plaintiff and he is solely responsible for her injuries,” the answer said.
The attorney general also contended Weber State has an effective policy for reporting and redressing sexual harassment and that the woman “unreasonably failed to avail herself of WSU’s preventive and remedial measures.”
Further, the answer asserted the suit should be dismissed because the woman “consented to the complained of conduct” and “did not report the alleged harassment to an appropriate person.”
In addition, it said, “WSU did not possess sufficient control over the alleged harasser and did not possess control over the context of the alleged harassment.”
Asked Tuesday to comment on the answer and the settlement offer, the university issued this statement:
“The Attorney General’s office has requested that Weber State maintain the confidentiality of any settlement negotiations between the parties in the Doe case. Any questions regarding this litigation should be directed to that office for response.”
Assistant Attorney General Darin Goff declined comment Tuesday afternoon, saying the office does not discuss settlement negotiations and pending litigation.