Experts weigh in on UNA Title IX lawsuit after sexual assault cover-up allegations

FLORENCE, Ala. - A former University of North Alabama student is claiming that a professor sexually assaulted her and that school officials covered it up.

A federal lawsuit, filed on behalf of an unnamed plaintiff, claims former UNA Marketing professor David Dickerson sexually assaulted the student multiple times on a university trip.

UNA said it "vehemently disputes" the allegations. It also accuses the unnamed student of filing a false lawsuit to extort the university for money.

Decatur attorney, Greg Reeves, said if the allegations from the lawsuit are found to be true, UNA would be in violation of the Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972.

"You have a situation where a school was supposed to act to protect a student. And what it looks like is that they acted to protect their professor and themselves," said Reeves.

The detailed complaint alleges that shortly after the assault was reported, the victim was told by the Marketing department chair to stay off campus.

Reeves said if this is proven true, UNA didn't follow through on its Title IX responsibilities.

"They have to try and protect the student. They need to look into it. They need to question the student and professor. They need to do something to try and protect the student," explained Reeves.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college. Title IX is a safeguard for sexual assault victims on college campuses.

"Universities are required to promptly respond to and address any sexual harassment or sexual violence that happens on their campus. That's because sexual violence creates a hostile environment not just for the student who was assaulted, but for all of the other students that are in that campus community," said NSVRC communications director, Laura Palumbo.

Palumbo said all universities should have a Title IX office. She said everyone in the office should be trained in impartial investigation strategies.

"They must investigate a report by all parties involved. So, this would be the party who is making a report or received the report. As well as any witnesses and additional individuals who have information about the event," said Palumbo.

Palumbo said that not all victims are comfortable reporting sexual assault to Title IX. She added that if anyone on university staff hears about a possible sexual assault, they must make the Title IX office aware.

"It's unfortunate all too often that some of those first responders that a sexual assault victim comes forward to can respond and react in ways that are re-traumatizing and can halt them in moving the process forward," said Palumbo.

Palumbo said all claims should be thoroughly investigated. She said all faculty on any college campus should take any claims accusations of a professor committing sexual assault seriously because of their authority and access to students.

WHNT has learned the professor named in the suit, David Dickerson, is working at MSU Denver. The spokesman said MSU Denver is aware, and looking into the allegations. He also added that MSU Denver completes thorough background checks during the hiring process.