UNA responds to lawsuit involving an alleged sexual assault cover-up

FLORENCE, Ala. – The University of North Alabama has responded and is asking for the dismissal of a Title IX lawsuit accusing the school of covering up the sexual assault of a student by her professor.

UNA is citing the Eleventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which addresses the sovereign immunity of states.  The public university, therefore, claims it is a state entity prohibited from being sued.

The federal lawsuit, filed in August 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, the complaint 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.

In UNA’s response, the university disputes the claim of deliberate indifference to the plaintiff’s rights under Title IX. The university claims it took “prompt, effective remedial action that stopped the alleged harassment.” Lawyers also argue that the victim was not deprived the access of educational benefits provided by the university, which falls under Title IX requirements.

UNA claims Dickerson was placed on administrative leave, instead of immediate termination, for a number of reasons. Officials thought that an immediate termination could be viewed by Dickerson as a violation of his rights. University President Kenneth Kitts stated he was concerned it would cause Dickerson to fight the termination, which he feared would have a negative impact on the students involved.

While the suit suggests there was no background check on Dickerson, UNA officials say that his employment was conditioned upon the completion of a successful background investigation.

UNA claims “the plaintiff failed to report the alleged assault or harassment to an appropriate person with the authority to take corrective action to end the discrimination, and when the alleged harassment was reported by others to appropriate persons, appropriate action was taken.” Officials base that statement off their records showing the plaintiff failed to appear for an interview scheduled with the Title IX office.

Lawyers also noted that UNA had, and continues to have, a “vigorously-enforced” policy against sexual assault and harassment.

WHNT News 19 is still parsing through a number of documents from this filing, which include statements from UNA officials named in the lawsuit. Please check back for summaries of those statements.