A federal court ruled Friday that Iowa State had not acted "deliberately indifferent" to former student Melissa Maher by waiting to take action until the hearing process after she was sexually assaulted by another student in 2014.
Maher, who alleged in 2016 that her Title IX rights had been violated by Iowa State because the university subjected her to an unreasonable amount of time to investigate her assault, had her case originally dismissed in February 2018 by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa leading Maher to appeal the case.
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However, on Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit came to the same conclusion as the district court.
"There is no genuine dispute that ISU was deliberately indifferent after its investigative report concluded that Whetstone sexually assaulted Maher because ISU was not clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances," according to court documents.
The court of appeals also affirmed that the district court was correct in granting Iowa State's motion for a summary judgment, which is a request for the court to rule there is no case because there are not enough facts to present the issue.
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Maher was sexually assaulted in 2014 by then-student Patrick Whetstone in March 2014 at a Frederiksen Court apartment on Iowa State's campus. Maher reported the assault to the Iowa State Police Department the next day.
Whetstone was not charged for the crime until January 2015. In 2016, he pleaded guilty on charges of assault with intent to commit sexual assault, an aggravated misdemeanor. He was sentenced to two years probation.
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After learning of the assault, Iowa State issued a no-contact order against Whetstone. Yet, when Maher returned to campus in the late summer of 2014, Maher learned Whetstone was living in a building close to her own.
Maher requested Whetstone be moved, but university officials explained they could not move him until the investigation and hearing processes concluded. Instead, Iowa State offered alternative housing arrangements for Maher on Aug. 20, 2014, which she declined.
The court of appeals decided the housing arrangements were reasonable of Iowa State, and that her "dissatisfaction with the school’s response does not mean the school’s response can be characterized as deliberate indifference."
The court also concluded it was not "deliberately indifferent" for Iowa State to wait to take such action until the hearing process concluded in an effort of "respecting Whetstone’s procedural due process rights."
Yet, on Sept. 19, 2014 — just a month after Maher initially met with university officials to discuss Whetstone's housing — Iowa State concluded that Whetstone had sexually assaulted Maher. She later withdrew from the university.
Due to violating Iowa State's Code of Conduct, Whetstone was expelled from the university on July 22, 2015.
Maher alleged in her original suit that the discrimination she faced was "so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it can be said to deprive her of access to the educational opportunities or benefits provided by the school."