Lawsuit filed by former student against Liberty University moves forward
A U.S. district court judge has ruled former Liberty University football player Cameron Jackson can move forward with seven of the 18 claims in his lawsuit filed against the school and other defendants.
“Liberty is pleased with the court’s decision to dismiss all but one of the claims it asked to be dismissed,” LU General Counsel David Corry wrote to The News & Advance via email.
Jackson filed suit April 14, 2017, against Liberty, five employees and a former LU student athlete, alleging his Title IX rights were violated, he was defamed by the school and was denied due process during an investigation into an alleged off-campus sexual assault in August 2015 Jackson said never occurred. No charges were filed against Jackson after a Lynchburg Police Department investigation.
The lawsuit seeks approximately $100 million in compensation for damages to Jackson’s academic and athletic career, as well as to his reputation.
Jackson allegedly was dismissed by the university prior to the conclusion of the LPD investigation.
According to the lawsuit, Jackson and his accuser were involved in a non-exclusive sexual relationship both before and after the night in question. Witnesses who observed the sex, which reportedly took place in a living room separated only by a “privacy blanket,” have stated it appeared to be consensual, and the accuser was not intoxicated at the time. According to a Liberty news release that is part of the case, the incident was reported to LU 11 months after the encounter by the alleged victim.
The lawsuit casts doubts on the accuser’s charges and alleges she acted maliciously, the response of Liberty and its employees was inept and that staff did not protect Jackson from on-campus harassment aimed at him by other LU students, which caused Jackson to stop attending classes.
Claims allowed to move forward by a U.S. district court judge Aug. 3 are four defamation claims related to a university news release, two defamation claims against the former student athlete that accused Jackson of sexual assault and a Title IX claim that university attorneys have not moved to dismiss from the case.
“Title IX claims are very fact-specific inquiries that are more appropriately resolved at the summary judgment stage of the proceedings,” Corry explained via email.
He added the university believed the claims were meritless and would not go to a jury trial.
The allegedly defamatory news release, issued Sept. 12, 2016, prior to the conclusion of LU’s internal investigation, stated Jackson and a teammate had been suspended due to their involvement in the alleged off-campus sexual assault.
A third teammate accused of sexual assault already had left the university.
According to the suit, the accuser was dismissed by the university for multiple student conduct violations before she went to LU officials and made her accusations Jackson and the other two teammates. The lawsuit claims she conspired with two other female student athletes to damage the reputation of members of the football team.
No charges were filed against any of the three men after the LPD investigation concluded.
The lawsuit states Jackson, a Flames defensive back from Houston, suffered severe damage to his future earnings, lost funds for college and that his reputation has been “irreparably destroyed.”
Additionally, the suit states a notation on Jackson’s transcript that he had been dismissed from LU because of sexual assault made it difficult for him to gain entry into another college or university. According to Jackson’s attorney, Joshua Farmer, that notation since has been removed by Liberty, and Jackson has been allowed to petition the university for a status of “good standing,” which Farmer said has been approved as of this summer.
Corry said the university was legally prohibited from commenting on that matter.
“Cam desperately wants to clear his name, continue his college education and, if possible, advance his football career. He's currently weighing all options available to him — including transferring to another school, or returning to the Flames,” Farmer wrote to The News & Advance via email.
The lawsuit seeks compensation for damages to Jackson’s academic and athletic career, as well as to his reputation. Jackson originally was seeking $102.1 million in damages, a number that now has been reduced to $100.2 million due to five of the defendants being dismissed from the case.
Farmer noted it was up to the jury to decide ultimately how much to award to Jackson.
Liberty employees originally named as part of the lawsuit were: Robert Mullin, dean of students; Valerie Dufort, assistant director of Liberty’s Title IX Office; Len Stevens, LU’s spokesman; and Jonathan Ignacio and Elysa Bucci, assistant directors for the LU Office of Community Life. Remaining parties are the university, the former student athlete who accused Jackson of sexual assault and Stevens.
Stevens is named as a defendant for his role in issuing the news release, which the lawsuit claims “withheld significant relevant fact,” such as Jackson’s denial of the claims and his appeal.
According to Corry, the university has retained the Richmond-based law firm of McGuire Woods LLP, which also will represent Stevens since he was acting in his official capacity as an employee.
Corry described the claims against Stevens as meritless and the LU disciplinary process “as fair, objective, and thorough.”
He added LU could not speak on behalf of Jackson’s accuser who is named in the lawsuit.
Another component of the lawsuit is the claim LU sought to make an example out of Jackson in order to protect its reputation as a Christian university and appear tough on Title IX issues while in the process of hiring Ian McCaw as athletic director. McCaw previously was accused of being complicit in a widespread sexual assault scandal and institutional cover-up that rocked Baylor University during his time as its athletic director. McCaw has denied direct knowledge of the issue.
Corry previously told The News & Advance this claim was “pure speculation.”
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