Lawsuit: University of North Alabama covered up the sexual assault of a student by her professor

FLORENCE, Ala. - A Title IX lawsuit filed in federal court alleges the University of North Alabama helped to cover up the sexual assault of a student by her professor.

The claim, filed on behalf of an unnamed plaintiff, says that former UNA Marketing Professor David Dickerson sexually assaulted a student multiple times on a university trip. The lawsuit claims one of the assaults was caught on camera by two other students who reported the incident. Meanwhile, it says university officials never took a formal report on the accusations, allowed the professor to serve out his contract and even admitted that they had not performed a background check on Dickerson before hiring him.

The suit claims Dickerson had previously been arrested for the rape and sexual assault of a 19-year-old woman.

The narrative of the assaults, as alleged in the lawsuit, goes like this:

  • In 2015, the student was chosen, along with another female student and two male students, for a marketing competition in Orlando, which she attended with Dickerson.
  • She went to the pool alone one night. Then, Dickerson also came down to the pool.  He allegedly touched and "pawed" at the plaintiff, eventually trying two different times to pull her onto his lap and kiss her.
  • The male students on the trip could see the pool area from their hotel room and took pictures of the assault on their phones.
  • The next night, Dickerson invited the victim and her roommate to dinner across the street from the hotel, where he purchased them alcohol.
  • The roommate left the dinner early. The plaintiff remembers being in and out of consciousness, being walked back to the hotel by Dickerson.
  • Jane Doe remembers being undressed by Dickerson and not having the strength to fight him off.
  • She woke up naked.
  • She left immediately when she woke up. Dickerson called her to say he "hoped they could still be friends." He added, "I want us to be good friends."
  • Shortly after the trip, the male students reported the swimming pool behavior to Dr. Jerome Gafford, the head of the UNA Business Department, showing him the pictures of Dickerson's behavior.

The lawsuit then dives into the alleged cover-up portion of the accusation, which includes:

  • The chair of the marketing department, Dr. Jana Beaver, told Jane Doe not to attend class and to stay off campus.
  • UNA never took a written statement from Doe.
  • No one at UNA ever reported the assault to police.
  • Dickerson was allowed to finish out his contract at UNA.
  • Beaver told Doe to stay away from downtown Florence and to only go places with a friend because Dickerson had been seen hanging out downtown.
  • A counselor approved medical leave for Doe to deal with PTSD from the incident, but UNA's Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. David Shields told Doe, "Let's call it an Academic Leave."
  • Dr. Gafford told Doe that UNA failed to do a background search on Dickerson prior to hiring him.
  • Doe learned that Dickerson had been charged with Rape and Assault of a 19-year-old woman, prior to working at UNA.

The lawsuit says Dickerson emailed Doe months after the assault, writing:

"It has been over six months since we spoke, so I am sorry. Much to my dismay, I was compelled by UNA not to speak with anyone! What crazy, stupid and parochial minded people. Either way, I just want to say that aside from childish behavior, I command a great respect for you, and will be happy now to keep in touch with you! Friends forever! Feel free to contact me! Your friend, David."

The lawsuit says, "Plaintiff was forced to leave campus, forced to take academic leave, delay her academic track and undergo further emotional trauma
while UNA allowed an Accused Rapist to continue teaching."

The university issued an aggressive response to the allegations, which you can find here.