A former standout lacrosse player has sued Westminster College, saying it placed more value on the privacy of a male student who had sexually assaulted her than on her safety.
According to the lawsuit, the college violated a restraining order and federal Title IX regulations by housing Kennedy Flavin within 100 feet of the man who’d sexually assaulted her in high school, when they were both minors. The school then refused to move his dorm or make other arrangements to protect Flavin.
Title IX charges universities with ensuring students receive education without sex-based discrimination.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Utah, also accuses the school of discriminating against Flavin for being deaf.
Westminster created an environment “so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive,” that Flavin, 18, was forced to leave her school of choice and the sport she loves, the lawsuit states.
Westminster declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying it had yet to be served, but acknowledged the allegations.
“Westminster takes these allegations very seriously,” President Stephen Morgan said in a prepared statement sent to The Tribune on Friday. “Every student who files for disability accommodations is handled on a case-by-case basis. Our disability staff provides individualized attention to all students who make these requests, and a special plan is crafted to help meet their unique needs.
“Although the college is unable to comment on the specific allegations at this time, we are giving this matter our utmost attention. Once the college is officially served with the complaint, we will be able to file a response.”
Flavin was in high school when her then-boyfriend raped her, according to the lawsuit. In juvenile court, he admitted guilt to sexual battery and unlawful sexual conduct with a minor. He was given probation and ordered to have no contact with Flavin, the lawsuit says.
In 2017, Flavin graduated from high school and received a $19,000-per-year scholarship to attend Westminster and play lacrosse.
It was a great fit, the lawsuit says, because the school’s small classes accommodate her deafness. Westminster also has the only Division II women’s lacrosse team in the state, and her former high school coach had become an assistant coach there.
The two had experience navigating Flavin’s deafness to help her excel on the field. In high school, she’d made an all-state team and an all-regional team, as well as a select team composed of only 23 Utah players.
But Flavin’s college experience was derailed when she learned that her ex-boyfriend decided to forego enlisting in the Marines and instead attend Westminster.
Flavin panicked as she realized the juvenile-court stalking order had expired, according to the lawsuit, and immediately filed for a stalking injunction, which was approved.
It stated the man had to stay 100 feet away from Flavin and withdraw from any classes the two were both enrolled in.
But the school assigned the man to a dormitory nearly within an “arm’s length” of Flavin’s building, the lawsuit says.
And due to the way the buildings are positioned, according to the lawsuit, he could “quite literally look into his victim’s window.”
Flavin complained to the school, which responded that the distance from the ex-boyfriend’s building’s door, out to the sidewalk, around the corner and up to the door of Flavin’s building is more than 100 feet, and therefore in line with the order, according to the lawsuit.
Flavin’s attorney, Dale Boam, said the school’s explanation is akin to a child holding a finger within a centimeter of someone else’s face while repeating “I’m not touching you.”
According to the lawsuit, the school said it was concerned that moving the man to another dorm would violate his privacy and potentially out him as a sex abuser.
“It’s an unreasonable response,” Boam said. “They are spending more time worrying about protecting his identity than to the danger to Kennedy.”
Then the man joined the school’s men’s lacrosse team, which meant he would use the same athletic facilities as Flavin.
Westminster scheduled them to have their athletic physicals at the same time. When Flavin complained, the lawsuit says, her physical was rescheduled to take place with the women’s basketball team, while the male student “was allowed to stay with his teammates.”
Westminster assigned them to the same freshmen orientation, the lawsuit says. At the end of the session, Flavin realized her attacker had been sitting behind her.
As the school year commenced, the two continued to have run-ins, heightening Flavin’s anxiety. Campus security doesn’t have a way to communicate with deaf people, according to the lawsuit, so she felt unprotected.
The college told her to call Salt Lake City police if something occurred, according to the lawsuit. But that could be an overblown response, Boam said — or it would take longer for police to arrive from off campus.
Flavin stopped sleeping in her dorm room. She eventually left Westminster and enrolled in another university.
Losing her scholarship meant that her father had to sell his house to pay for her education, according to the lawsuit.
Boam said that he feels Westminster’s response was influenced by the male student’s role on the lacrosse team. According to the lawsuit, the college several times referenced his importance to the program.
Boam said the case falls in line with the #MeToo movement, fighting against individuals and institutions propping up men while oppressing women and victims of sexual assault.
And as a deaf woman, Flavin is more vulnerable to attack, Boam said.
“To be deaf is to always be in danger of someone trying to take advantage of you under the belief that you can’t do anything about it, you can’t tell anybody,” he said.
But if she felt safe, he said, she would return to Westminster in a heartbeat.
While the lawsuit doesn’t list an amount of money sought, Boam said the basis for the lawsuit is the scholarship funds Flavin lost when she left Westminster.
The lawsuit says Westminster violated Section 504, a federal law that protects against discrimination, as well as Title IX. All schools that receive federal funding must comply with Title IX or face potential loss of funds.
In 2017, following a three-year federal investigation, Westminster was cleared of allegations that it mishandled a sexual assault complaint and violated Title IX.
Reporter Paighten Harkins contributed to this story.