Judge: MSU policies could have made women vulnerable to athlete assaults


EAST LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) –A federal judge took aim at Michigan State University, saying its policies could have made women vulnerable to being sexually assaulted by male athletes.

The 21-page ruling from Judge Paul Maloney, who presides in Michigan’s Western District, denied MSU’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Bailey Kowalski, who says she was raped by three basketball players in 2015.

6 News does not normally name victims of sexual assault, however, Kowalski went public with her case in April. She told 6 News she was stunned, but thrilled the judge ruled in her favor.

“I have no words, honestly,” she said. “I was like, crying tears of joy because this is the first time this entire process that someone did their job correctly, and it was the first time that something went right.”

Kowalski filed the lawsuit in 2018. In the complaint, she said she was drugged and raped at an off-campus apartment by the three basketball players. She also said she was discouraged from reporting the assault by staff at the MSU Counseling Center.

“I haven’t felt like my story, or anything that happened to me, had been taken seriously by anybody that is associated with the university, or by anyone that’s high up and could actually do something about it,” she told 6 News.

MSU filed a motion to dismiss in July 2018, saying Kowalski did not allege any facts that would make MSU liable under Title IX for an assault that happened off-campus.

Kowalski filed an amended complaint, and cited other incidents where alleged rapes committed by athletes were not handled properly by the university, and handled differently from other cases.

Maloney took MSU’s motion to dismiss under advisement in March. In his ruling filed Wednesday, he made the following statement regarding MSU’s policies:

“The Court finds that the allegations in Plaintiff’s complaint render plausible her claim that MSU maintained official policies that left her and other female students vulnerable to sexual assault by male athletes. Plaintiff has sufficiently pleaded that MSU allowed reports of sexual assault to be handled “off-line” by the Athletic Department and outside the normal channels of Title IX investigations. Similarly, the attempts to cover-up or otherwise obfuscate the University’s handling of sexual assault reports made against male athletes, the attempts to conceal the names of prominent male athletes when mentioned in police reports, and the attempts to discourage female victims from reporting their own assaults all tend to show that sexual assaults by male athletes were handled in ways that would minimize scrutiny and potential punishment for such acts. If such a policy or custom existed, it is plausible that the policy itself was a cause of Plaintiff’s assault.

MSU’s arguments to the contrary do not carry the day for disposition of the instant motion.”

Federal Judge Paul Maloney, Western District of Michigan

Kowalski said she wants to be part of positive change at MSU.

“I want to be a part of making the university better, and getting them out of this hole that they’re in right now,” she said. “Because there are so many good things about Michigan State University that are tainted because of these terrible things that certain people have done.”

Michigan State University Spokesperson Emily Guerrant released the following statement on the ruling to 6 News:

“The ruling represents the next step in the legal process for this lawsuit. Since 2015, MSU has been working to make campus a place of awareness, respect and safety – a place where any form of sexual assault and harassment is not tolerated. We have also been working to improve our prevention and response efforts, especially for survivors who have to navigate complex systems and try to make informed decisions under difficult circumstances.”

Emily Guerrant, University Spokesperson

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