In US federal court, student charges Yeshiva University with covering up rape case

Plaintiff says university held ‘sham investigation’ into alleged rape last year to shield its fundraising efforts, basketball team; school calls claims ‘categorically false’

Luke Tress is an editor and a reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: A Yeshiva University building in New York City. (Luke Tress/The Times of Israel)
Illustrative: A Yeshiva University building in New York City. (Luke Tress/The Times of Israel)

NEW YORK — A student at New York City’s Yeshiva University filed a federal lawsuit against the school and some of its leadership on Monday, claiming the university covered up her rape by a student athlete and mishandled the investigation of the case.

The lawsuit claims the modern Orthodox university conducted a “sham investigation” into the case to shield a major fundraising campaign, and alleges the effort was part of a long pattern of covering up sexual assault.

The student said that she was raped by a classmate in January, 2021 in his off-campus apartment. She publicly revealed the incident in a newspaper column in August, saying the school handled her callously after she reported the case. Both the accuser and alleged rapist have remained anonymous.

The case filed Monday at the US District Court for the Southern District of New York stepped up the allegations against the university. It claimed the university, its general counsel, Title IX coordinator and the law firm it appointed to investigate the case “conspired to ignore, bury and cover up” the allegations.

The 137-page complaint alleges the defendants failed to properly handle the incident as a Title IX case, misled the accuser and student body about how it was handling the case and conducted a negligent investigation that had determined at the outset that the accused rapist was “not responsible.” Title IX is a federal civil rights law that deals with gender discrimination in federally funded education programs, and covers sexual assault and harassment.

The defendants “jointly made a knowing, conscious, and calculated decision” to cover up the allegations with a “sham investigation,” the lawsuit says.

The university said in response, “The allegations against the university asserted in this complaint are categorically false. We are fully confident that this matter was appropriately and thoroughly investigated.”

“Our professionals, including the individuals named in this lawsuit, work tirelessly to ensure the safety and well-being of our students and they have taken extensive steps to provide assistance in this matter specifically,” a university spokesperson said.

The lawsuit also says the law firm the university hired to conduct an “independent investigation” into the case had a clear conflict of interest in favor of the university, since the attorneys had previously been paid millions of dollars in legal fees to defend the university from previous sex abuse allegations.

The plaintiff says the university’s investigators deliberately did not collect a rape kit with evidence collected by a hospital the day after the incident, did not interview key witnesses during the investigation, and that she was not allowed to appeal the investigation’s verdict, despite its negligence.

Yeshiva University, New York. (Wikimedia Commons)

“The YU defendants took every possible action to deny Plaintiff a full, fair and impartial adjudication of her rape complaint because each Defendant had conspired to ignore, bury and cover up” the allegations, the lawsuit says.

A university spokesperson said, “The firm hired by Yeshiva University, including the female lead investigator who is a former Title IX coordinator at a top five national university, conducted a thorough investigation and submitted a conclusive report supported by all the evidence. We also engaged an additional investigative firm to review this matter led by a former Manhattan Sex Crimes prosecutor, who validated the earlier process and agreed with the conclusion.”

“We at Yeshiva University take seriously our duty to do all we can to prevent and address sexual assault within our campus atmosphere and surrounding areas,” the spokesperson said.

The student also claimed in Monday’s lawsuit that the university did not take any measures to protect her after the incident, including by separating her from the alleged rapist, or punish him in any way, which put her and other female students at risk.

The student has not yet demanded a specific amount in damages and has demanded a trial by jury.

The court filings include an April, 2021 non-disclosure agreement the university had her sign, barring her from disclosing the results of the investigation and ordering her to destroy the report days after receiving it. She has said her accused rapist also signed a non-disclosure agreement, which the school required from both of them before investigating.

The filings also include a May 2021 letter from the university to the accuser informing her of the investigation results. The one-page letter says “it has been determined that the evidence does not support a finding” that she was a sexual assault victim, without explaining the decision.

The plaintiff says the university hushed the case largely to more effectively run its “Rise up” fundraising campaign that is seeking $613 million over the course of several years. It has raised over $256 million so far.

The alleged rapist was a member of the basketball team, and she said the school had seemed to want to shield the team’s reputation. After she made the public allegation in the student newspaper The Commentator, the basketball team went on an improbable, record-setting win streak, garnering widespread praise.

The accuser is also an athlete for the university and a full-time student. She has discussed the case in detail on the Jeff Lax radio show.

The lawsuit claims the case is part of a long pattern of covering up sexual abuse by the university going back decades, saying the school has published fraudulent reports showing zero cases of rape on or near its campuses in recent years. The lawsuit includes figures showing that the university has reported zero rape or sex crimes since 2001, claiming that it is one of the only, or the only university in the US that has not reported any incidents in that time frame. Federal law requires colleges and universities to publish and distribute information on crimes, including sex offenses.

“For two decades, YU has spun a malicious, phony, and reckless fairytale about the safety of its campuses,” the lawsuit says.

In 2019, dozens of former students of a high school operated by the university said they had been molested in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. The lawsuit alleged the university failed to protect the students at Yeshiva University High School for Boys.

A separate $380 million lawsuit over past handling of sexual abuse allegations was dismissed in 2014, but was revived in different forms after New York State changed legal statues for cases of alleged sexual abuse.

The university has pledged to “restructure” an office that deals with sexual harassment and assault in response to the case and hired a new Title IX coordinator to assist with sexual harassment matters. The school’s Title IX office did not have an officer dedicated to such matters before, unlike most other large universities.

Student activists said those steps indicated progress, but not enough. Monday’s lawsuit said the changes were “meaningless window-dressing.”

The student’s attorney, Kevin Mulhearn, said in a statement that he and the plaintiff believe the university’s “grossly improper dismissal of her rape complaint is far from the first time that YU condoned and excused” rape or sexual assault.

“My client is and will remain relentless in her pursuit of justice because she is compelled to do everything in her power to prevent what happened to her from ever happening again,” Mulhearn said.

Yeshiva University’s basketball team gained national attention this year with a record-setting win streak that earned it glowing profiles on ESPN and other national outlets.

There are no allegations of wrongdoing by the basketball team, or by other players.

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