Feds Will Probe Handling of Sexual Misconduct Case

A complaint by several women that the University failed to properly handle sexual assault cases will be investigated by the federal government.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has notified Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86 that it will look into a claim that UNC did not adequately handle concerns of sexual harassment, sexual assault and sexual violence; did not provide appropriate grievance procedures and impartial investigations for the same; and did not provide appropriate training to some of the people charged with handling complaints.

In addition, the notification letter said that based on the complainants’ information, there were “individual allegations of disability discrimination and retaliation.”

The letter said that opening the investigation does not imply that the Office for Civil Rights has made a determination of the merits of the complaint.

The complaint was prompted by a sophomore’s dissatisfaction with the way her case was handled by UNC’s Office of Student Affairs. In early 2012, Landen Gambill said she had been raped repeatedly by a former boyfriend. The boyfriend, who has not been identified, was found not guilty of sexual misconduct by the University Hearings Board but was found guilty of verbal harassment. He was suspended from school for most of two semesters before being reinstated for the spring 2013 semester.

Gambill was joined in the complaint by Melinda Manning, who resigned last fall as assistant dean of students; alumnae Annie Clark’11 and Andrea Pino ’11; and some number of unidentified women.

The University has yet to see a copy of the complaint.

On March 21, the Department of Education notified the University that it also would investigate the women’s complaint that it had violated the Clery Act and requested that UNC make appropriate records, staff members and students available for a review to begin in early April.

The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act requires colleges and universities to maintain and disclose campus crime statistics and security information. Failure to comply can result in a loss of federal funds.

In a letter sent to Thorp, the DOE said that the complaint “asserts that UNC has failed to accurately and completely disclose its campus crime statistics” and that UNC “has not developed and implemented certain required policies and procedures regarding the proper response to campus sexual assaults and the adjudication of such offenses by campus judicial bodies.”

The letter said the investigation will cover crime statistics for the years 2009 through 2012.

Early this year, the former boyfriend filed a harassment complaint against Gambill that resulted in a charge against her from the student-run Honor Court. Gambill says the University is retaliating against her for filing the federal complaint.

UNC officials are adamant that no such retaliation occurred, pointing out that the administration has no say over the court’s affairs. They also deny one of the claims in the Office for Civil Rights’ complaint that the University has underreported sexual assault cases. UNC issued a statement that said some students who work in the honor system “received threats to their personal safety” after Gambill was charged with harassment.

On March 26, the Honor Court suspended the harassment case at Thorp’s request. According to news reports, Gambill had responded to the harassment charge with another complaint to the DOE concerning the alleged retaliation. Thorp said that for the Honor Court to proceed with the case while the DOE investigated held the possibility of a conflict.

The Office for Civil Rights’ letter on the complaint by the five women requests that UNC provide all of its policies on sexual misconduct, including how they are publicized to the campus community; details of the training provided to staff involved in the process; and a “spreadsheet of all student complaints of sexual harassment, including sexual assault/sexual violence,” brought to the University’s attention, including the names of everyone who was involved.

A UNC spokesperson said the University would “respond appropriately to their requests and cooperate fully.”

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