BY JESSICA LYNK
A former Drake trustee is suing the university, alleging he was kicked off the board after he repeatedly complained about how Drake investigated a sexual assault allegation against his son.
Trustee Tom Rossley was removed from the board last July after serving 23 years. He sued in U.S. District Court on Feb. 17.
Rossley’s son, a former Drake student who was identified in the lawsuit as a member of the Class of 2016, was accused by a female Drake student of sexual assault in October 2015. The university investigated the complaint, as required by Title IX.
Title IX is a federal law that says that students “are protected from sex-based discrimination, harassment, or violence, whether it occurs on or off campus,” according to Drake’s Title IX website. This law requires Drake to respond to and restrain sexual harassment or violence.
Because Rossley’s son was the son of a board member, Drake brought in an outside investigator, Mary Howell Sirna, the Title IX Coordinator at Iowa State University.
Drake Assistant Director of Campus Public Safety Tricia McKinney helped conduct the investigation.
The university then expelled Rossley’s son in spring 2016 for violating Drake’s student code of conduct.
Rossley alleges that Drake mishandled the investigation by overlooking his son’s accusation that he was sexually assaulted by the female student, earlier in the evening. He also alleges that the university didn’t accommodate his son’s disabilities throughout the investigation.
“While engaging in a biased and unlawful Title IX investigation of Mr. Rossley’s disabled son, the officials at Drake University purposefully ignored and failed to investigate the student’s numerous pleas for help after he was sexually assaulted by a female student,” said Andrew Miltenberg, Rossley’s lawyer who is from New York, in an email. “My client made numerous efforts to address the heinous violations of his disabled son’s rights to school officials and the Board of Trustees. Instead of remedying the school’s numerous unlawful actions, they instead instituted an immediate attack on Mr. Rossley and effectively silenced and covered up his complaints, to the direct detriment of his family, career, and Drake University’s students.”
Rossley’s lawsuit says his son has ADHD, language-based learning disabilities and anxiety.
The investigators, Sirna and McKinney, discriminated against him by not giving him “any of the necessary and legally mandated accommodations” for his disabilities, the lawsuit says.
Rossley said he informed Acting Dean of Students Jerry Parker of his son’s disabilities in December 2015, but Parker seemed “disinterested,” according to the lawsuit.
In February 2016, the university investigation concluded that Rossley’s son committed misconduct, and he was expelled from Drake.
According to the lawsuit, Rossley’s son appealed the decision but was not successful. Drake’s director of public relations, Jarad Bernstein, issued a statement on behalf of the university:
“Drake University takes seriously its commitment to provide a safe and productive educational environment for all of its students. This case is no exception. After an initial review of the complaint filed by former trustee Tom Rossley, Sr., the University disagrees with the plaintiff’s depictions of the alleged actions of the parties involved. There are clear differences of opinion about how this situation evolved, and we look forward to presenting a vigorous defense in court. In recognition of the University’s obligations under federal law and out of respect for the privacy of those individuals involved, no further comment will be offered.”
After Drake’s Title IX investigation led to the expulsion of Rossley’s son, the son then sued Drake in federal court on Dec. 1, 2016, under the name “John Doe.”
Rossley’s lawsuit also claimed the university “purposefully and maliciously” ignored the son’s own report of sexual assault.
After the investigation was under way, Rossley’s son reported that he had been assaulted by the female complainant earlier in the night, according to the lawsuit. Rossley’s son, as reported in his separate lawsuit, told investigators that the female “initiated the sexual contact” and he “was not able to give consent that night” due to intoxication.
Rossley’s lawsuit claims that Rossley then contacted Parker to discuss the investigation. Rossley’s lawsuit alleges that Parker said that his son’s claim was “retaliatory.” The lawsuit says that Rossley felt the university disregarded his son’s claim and immediately gave the female student “immunity.”
The lawsuit then goes on to contend that Rossley’s son was forced to act as his own advocate during a nine-hour disciplinary hearing, despite his disabilities.
The lawsuit also added that in this hearing, the female accuser “admitted, on the record … to sexually assaulting Plaintiff’s disabled son without his consent.”
The case filed by Rossley cited similar allegations against Drake, including failure to conduct a full investigation and favoring the female accuser.
After the hearing, the lawsuit says that Rossley repeatedly complained to fellow board members about Drake’s investigation.
On April 7, 2016, Rossley sent an email to Parker and retired trustees Chairman Larry Zimpleman, raising concerns about how his son’s case was handled. According to the lawsuit, no one responded to the email.
On April 26, 2016, Rossley sent an email to the board to reiterate his concerns.
“They knew, and it (the investigation) was not done,” Rossley wrote, as stated in the lawsuit. The lawsuit claims that Rossley received support from other board members.
However, later that day, Zimpleman sent an email telling members not to discuss the issue, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit claims that after Rossley contacted trustees, the board took steps to remove Rossley as a trustee.
In July 2016, Rossley was voted off the board “for cause” during a telephone conference of trustees, according to the lawsuit.