Documents say women settle lawsuit against Liberty U.
Associated Press May 12, 2022
RICHMOND, Va. — A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit twelve women brought last summer against Liberty University, accusing the Christian institution of fostering an unsafe environment on its Virginia campus and mishandling cases of sexual assault and harassment, according to court documents filed Wednesday.
A notice of dismissal filed by the plaintiffs' attorney, Jack Larkin, said the case had been settled but provided no details about the terms.
Larkin did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press. But in an email to TV station WDBJ, he said: "The terms of the settlement are confidential in nature and there's really nothing I can say about it beyond that the parties to the suit have resolved their differences, and the matter is settled."
Liberty also did not immediately respond to questions from the AP, though spokesman Ryan Helfenbein acknowledged receiving them.
The development comes as the prominent evangelical school in Lynchburg faces continued scrutiny over its handling of sex assault cases. It is facing other lawsuits that raise similar allegations and recently acknowledged to news outlets that the U.S. Department of Education is reviewing its compliance with the federal Clery Act, which requires colleges and universities to maintain and disclose crime statistics and security information.
In a statement, the department acknowledged the oversight work was ongoing but said no further comment would be provided until "the outcome officially has been communicated to the institution."
The recently settled lawsuit was filed in federal court in New York and made various claims under Title IX, the federal law that protects against sex discrimination in education.
It alleged that Liberty's strict honor code makes it "difficult or impossible" for students to report sexual violence. It said the university had a "tacit policy" of weighting investigations in favor of accused male students, and it said the university retaliated against women who did make such reports.
The women, former students and employees, all filed suit anonymously and were identified as Jane Doe 1-12. Their allegations spanned more than two decades.
Some plaintiffs in the lawsuit described being raped or sexually harassed and having their cases mishandled or effectively ignored. One woman alleged pregnancy discrimination.
The school said at the time the lawsuit was filed that the allegations were "deeply troubling" and pledged to "make things right" if the claims against it were true.
A status report filed in the case in February said that if it was not resolved "amicably" an amended complaint would be filed adding new plaintiffs, including a current student.
Liberty has also been in the spotlight recently for its acrimonious split with former president and chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. in 2020. Litigation between Falwell and the school is ongoing.