Queens agrees to settlement in sexual assault lawsuit

Queens University of Charlotte has agreed to an out-of-court settlement with a former student who claimed school officials mishandled the investigation into her 2012 on-campus sexual assault, new court documents show.

“The Parties have reached agreement on all issues in this case and are in the process of executing a formal settlement agreement,” the U.S. District Court document says. “Counsel for Plaintiff will file a Notice of Dismissal within the next 20 days.”

The court document disclosing the settlement on Monday followed several delays that a federal judge granted in the case, while the two sides negotiated the out-of-court agreement.

The lawsuit has been under consideration since July in the U.S. District Court for Western North Carolina based in Charlotte. The former student initially filed suit in state court this spring, but the university successfully sought its removal to federal court several months later.

Queens University officials declined Tuesday afternoon to comment on the settlement or the lawsuit itself. 

“The filing speaks for itself,” said Dean of Students John Downey via email.

In working to reach an out-of-court settlement, the university never told its side of the story in court. After the case moved to federal court, the next step under federal guidelines would have been for Queens to file a formal response detailing the university’s account of what happened. But instead, lawyers for Queens delayed their response while settlement talks continued.

The lawsuit claims that the university improperly handled the plaintiff’s 2012 sexual assault. The Queens Chronicle does not name victims of sexual assault.

The female Queens student was sleeping in a dorm room in April 2012 when a male student, identified as Gianmarino Gianfrate in a Queens police report provided on the WBTV website, entered her room and sexually assaulted her, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit further states that the male student admitted that his actions were not consensual to campus police.

The lawsuit argues that “…campus police and Queens had the authority and should have arrested and charged the offending student with rape after he confessed and admitted to the Dean of Students and Campus Police.”

Instead, the lawsuit says, the male student was charged with second degree rape by force against will and second degree sex offense on October 29, 2012, six months after the incident. Those charges were later reduced to one misdemeanor charge of assault on a female, which Gianfrate pleaded guilty to, courts documents on the WBTV website show. Gianfrate had to pay $700 in fines and court costs and undergo two years of unsupervised probation, WBTV court documents show.

The lawsuit also alleges that “…Queens failed to take necessary administrative steps to prohibit the student from harming other female students.”

The case went through the university’s administrative hearing board, which suspended the male student for four semesters, the lawsuit says. The board determined that the male student could return to Queens in fall 2014, without requiring that the Queens administration approve of his return or notify the female student that he would be coming back, the lawsuit states.

The female student told the board that she was doing a double major, which meant she would need to be in school for longer than four semesters, and asked what would happen if she did not complete her studies in that amount of time, the lawsuit says.

An AHB chairperson said, “We can’t deal with what ifs,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also charges that Queens failed to help her in the aftermath of the sexual assault.

The female student tried to get accommodation for classwork, but the university did not provide the assistance that she needed, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also alleges that Queens violated both the Clery Act and Title IX. According to the lawsuit, Queens did not notify the female student of all sanctions and decisions made against the male student, which is required under the Clery Act.

The lawsuit says Queens’ knowledge of and indifference to the sexual assault was so severe that it “deprived [the] Plaintiff of access to the educational benefits or opportunities provided by Queens, in violation of Title IX.” Queens did not have a Title IX coordinator at the time of the sexual assault, the lawsuit states.

Because of Queens’ response to the sexual assault, the female Queens student suffered “severe emotional distress …” the lawsuit says. She was not able to complete her spring and fall semester classes on time, according to the lawsuit.

“In addition, Plaintiff has suffered and continues to suffer from considerable anxiety regarding her safety and well-being while on the Queens campus and elsewhere,” the lawsuit says.

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Published by students of Queens University of Charlotte, 1900 Selwyn Avenue, Charlotte, N.C. 28274.