Alumna sues GW for Title IX violation

Media Credit: Madeleine Cook | Hatchet Photographer

An alumna who experienced an allegedly abusive relationship during her five years at GW is suing GW for mishandling her case.

An alumna is suing GW for mishandling her allegations of sexual harassment over the course of several years.

Ricca Prasad, a 2015 alumna, filed a 19-page complaint in D.C. District Court on Wednesday saying GW broke the federal anti-discrimination law known as Title IX. Over the course of her five years at GW, she said officials did not adequately respond to her complaints of being sexually harassed by another student and did not take the necessary actions to protect her from him.

Prasad is suing GW for violating Title IX and for severe emotional distress and says she was “severely and repeatedly subjected to extreme harassment based on her sex such that it created a hostile and abusive environment,” according to the document. As a result of her experience, she also suffered a “loss of educational benefits” and developed post-traumatic stress disorder.

She is also suing GW for breach of contract, negligent retention of an administrator and failure to uphold a promise made with her, according to the document. She is not suing for a specific amount of money, but is “entitled to compensatory damages for pain and suffering” as well as attorney’s fees, according to the document.

Prasad declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Prasad was in a relationship with a male GW student, who is referred to only by initials in the document, from February 2011 to January 2012. The male student “persistently harassed Ms. Prasad through text messages and emails, varying between threats and declarations of love” throughout the relationship and after she ended the relationship, according to the document.

The male student stalked, sexually harassed and physically assaulted her after the relationship had ended, according to the document. On “several occasions,” he also alluded to raping her while she was unconscious during her freshman year, according to the document.

The complaint alleges GW failed to keep the harassment from continuing. Officials put two separate no contact orders in place in 2012 and 2013, but Prasad and the male student both broke the agreements, according to the document.

When the second no contact order was in place, the male student violated the order by sending “threatening, sexual and harassing emails” to Prasad and standing outside her first-floor window at night, according to the document.

To separate herself from the male student, Prasad took classes remotely in Florida for a semester in the fall of 2014, according to the document. During that time, she filed a cyberstalking report with the local police department. Studying remotely also hampered Prasad’s educational experience, according to the document. She was only able to take one class that was relevant to her degree and could not ask questions or participate in group projects. She also could not see the board at the front of the classroom because she was attending the class through Skype, according to the document.

Prasad “underwent extensive counseling as a means of addressing the emotional and psychological toll” of the harassment and “GWU’s indifference.” She had anxiety, nightmares and could not sleep, and was treated with anti-depressants and sleeping pills, according to the document.

She was granted a civil protection order by D.C. this March and has not been contacted by the male student since November 2014, according to the document.

Details of the lawsuit
The document lays out 146 different incidents that occurred during Prasad’s time at GW, including the many times when she interacted with administrators or was allegedly not supported by them.

GW did not refer Prasad to the Title IX coordinator, the official in charge of helping students navigate the process of reporting assault and harassment. Officials did not explain the process of reporting a sexual harassment claim, failed to follow institutional polices related to sexual violence, refused to let Prasad change her email account, did not enforce the no contact orders and failed to give her adequate notice when a judiciary hearing was held for the male student, according to the document.

University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said in an email that the University does not comment on pending litigation involving current or former students because of federal privacy laws, but added that the complaint only reflects Prasad’s side of the case and has not yet been reviewed within the judicial system.

“It is only the start of a case, GW has not yet had an opportunity to respond in court, and it might be some time before the case is resolved,” Csellar said.

Prasad is suing GW for “negligent retention” because they kept Gabriel Slifka, the director of GW’s disciplinary office, in his position while he handled her case.

Slifka treated Prasad with “callous disregard and then misrepresented the school’s actions regarding the disciplinary measures it had taken,” according to the document.

“Upon information and belief, other students at GWU have previously submitted grievances regarding the inappropriate responses taken by Mr. Slifka in response to their own reports of sexual harassment,” according to the document.

She is also suing GW for a breach of contract because officials had told her the male student would not be allowed to graduate, but he received his diploma in 2013.

Dan Snow, one of Prasad’s attorneys, declined to answer specific questions about the lawsuit. He said in a press release that GW did not refer Prasad to Title IX resources, which he called a “clear violation of Title IX.”

“GWU discriminated against a female student by not providing her with the resources and support necessary to keep her safe after she was the victim of sexual harassment,” Snow said. “They failed to properly investigate her harassment and did not follow their own sexual harassment protocol.”

Prasad is represented by Snow at the law firm Talos Bar as well as the Institute for Public Representation.

Prasad’s attorneys allege that GW’s response was “both procedurally flawed and inadequate to prevent foreseeable future harm,” according to the complaint.

GW’s history with Title IX
Title IX is a federal law that protects students from discrimination based on their sex. Institutions can violate Title IX by discriminating on the basis of gender or creating an environment that favors one sex over another.

Over the past several years, Title IX has become a way for sexual violence survivors to turn a federal spotlight onto their schools for mishandling their cases. More than 130 institutions are being investigated by the Department of Education for their handling of Title IX.

Prasad had not filed a complaint through the Department of Education against GW as of Friday afternoon, a Department of Education spokesman said.

This is at least the second Title IX-related lawsuit the University has faced in four years. In 2011, a male freshman student in 2011 alleged that GW wrongly discriminated against him on the basis of gender when they found him guilty of sexual assault and suspended him without a proper trial. The case was settled in an out-of-court agreement that summer.

GW was also investigated by the Department of Education in 2011, when a student filed a Title IX complaint saying the University “failed to respond in an equitable manner to her complaint that she was sexually assaulted by another undergraduate student,” according to a copy of the complaint from the Department of Education.

As a result of that investigation, the University changed its policies, without admitting to being in violation of Title IX. New rules were created for officials to follow, including reassessing the responsibilities of the University’s Title IX coordinator.

The 2011 complaint also came in the middle of major changes to GW’s structure for responding to sexual assault and sexual harassment. In April 2011, officials announced the University’s judicial office would be divided the following school year to separate serious cases from minor incidents. And in 2013, officials revamped GW’s sexual assault policies, removing the time constraint to formally file a sexual harassment or assault complaint.

Ellie Smith contributed reporting.

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