By: Joel Alderman
Basking in the glory of winning NCAA titles in men’s and women’s basketball this year, the University of Connecticut is now experiencing the downside of negative national publicity after a major financial and public relations “hit” was announced this past weekend.
UConn has agreed to pay $1,285,000 as a settlement to a lawsuit. This would be in addition to the approximately $300,000 it has already incurred in defense costs, according to a UConn spokeswoman, Stephanie Reitsz.
The combined payouts will total about $1,585,000, of which $900,00 goes to Sylvana Moccia, former UConn hockey player. She claimed to have been raped by a member of the men’s hockey team, followed by indifferent responses from university staffers and her being dropped from women’s hockey.
The case was brought by four former and one current female student, who claimed that the university had treated their reports of sexual assault or harassment with “indifference.”
The intent of the lawsuit was not to hold UConn literally responsible for any sexual attacks or harassment. However, the university was claimed to have not been in compliance with Title IX,which prohibits discrimination of students based on gender. It guarantees them the right to an education free from violation of their human and civil rights.
Although at least one of the women who brought the case and two of the men implicated were athletes, this is not just a sports story. It is about an entire institution of higher learning.
The university as a whole, not just the athletic department, will now bear the burden financially and administratively. This leads to a natural question the citizens of our state must be asking.
Where does the payment $1.5 mil-plus come from?
Here are some possible answers, in order of likelihood:
1) The taxpayers of the state, who pay the majority of the costs to support the university.
2) The students at UConn and their families, by way of tuition increases.
3) The athletic department.
4) Booster organizations.
Whatever the source may be, this much is certain. It will be an expensive loss for UConn both financially and to its public relations image.
Many believe that a university should be in the business of educating, and not itself have to be the beneficiary of receiving an education. In this case, it is itself being taught a lesson on how better to protect the human and civil rights of its students.
Perhaps UConn did learn a thing or two since the time all this was supposed to have happened. At the press conference announcing the settlement last Friday, the university’s president, Susan Herbst, made a statement of intent, although in it she deflected the spotlight away from Storrs and brought other universities into the picture.
She said that the lawsuit “may have been settled, but the issue of sexual assault on college campuses has not been. UConn, like all colleges and universities, must do all it can to prevent sexual violence on our campuses, hold perpetrators accountable, and provide victims with the resources and compassion they desperately need during a time of intense personal trauma.”
The lead attorney for the five was Gloria Allred, nationally known in civil rights litigation, who said “We hope that other victims of sexual assault will hear about the positive results in our case involving UConn and be inspired and encouraged to report instances of violence and assault. Title IX is there for their protection, and other universities should follow the law and UConn’s example.”
Who gets what?
$900,000 to hockey player Silvana Moccia
As stated above, the bulk of the money, $900,000, will go to Silvana Moccia, who said she was kicked off the hockey team by Coach Heather Linstad, when she was a freshman.
Ms. Moccia, who grew up in Somerville, Mass., had been at Storrs only three days when, on August 28, 2011, she attended a party at which she admits she had consumed “less than two shots” of alcohol. After getting sick and losing consciousness, she awoke and said she was then raped by a male hockey player.
On Sept. 9th she reported the incident to the UConn Women’s Center and was referred to a rape crisis center for counseling.
The same day she saw the hockey team’s doctor, Thomas Trojian, who she said told her he did not want to know the identity of the person who may have raped her, and suggested she could transfer to another school.
Three days later Ms. Moccia, who was a goalie, met with Coach Linstad. She claimed the coach was upset because she had not disclosed a knee injury and had missed practices. She felt that because of her rape complaint the coach did not feel she was “stable enough” to be on the hockey team.
$115,000 to Kylie Angell; she was told that women have to “stop spreading their legs”
The second highest amount going to one of the plaintiffs is $115,000 for Kylie Angell, of Trumbull. She had charged that a campus police officer told her that “Women have to just stop spreading their legs like peanut butter” or rape will continue to happen “till the cows come home.”
The campus police officer, incidentally, was also female.
$60,000 goes to Rosemary Richi, of Somers, who said she had been raped by a football player, who was allowed to remain on the team and that the UConn police conducted a shoddy investigation.
$125,000 will go to Erica Daniels, of South Windsor.
$25,000 to Carolyn Luby, of Storrs.
Each of the women is responsible for her attorney fees, except that UConn will also pay $60,000 toward Ms. Moccia’s costs to the New Haven law firm of Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Richardson, Fitzgerald and Pirotti.
The five women said that university staff members discouraged them from reporting sexual attacks to the police, which UConn officials denied and are still denying.
As is typical of most high profile settlements, the party that writes the checks, UConn, steadfastly stands by its position that it did no wrong. Meanwhile, the women are not allowed to respond.
In his statement issued with the announcement of the settlement, Lawrence D. McHugh, chairman of the Board of Trustees, said the “university continues to deny any wrongdoing and defends its policies of responding to instances of sexual misconduct.”
Is UConn “buying” their silence?
The basis of the settlement is a formal legal instrument known as a Release, which all five women had to sign in order to bring closure. In it they are agreeing not to “make any written or oral statements about UConn, or issue any written or oral communication . . . that disparages UConn, portrays UConn in a false light, or encourages others to disparage or portray UConn in a false light.”
Why then did UConn agree to settle?
McHugh also said that to continue to fight the lawsuit would be “dragging this out for years as it consumed the time, attention and resources – both financial and emotional – of everyone involved.”
Could that be interpreted as meaning that UConn should not be throwing good money after bad? Supply your own answer.
Where are they now?
Silvana Moccia withdrew from UConn, and the university refunded her tuition and reimbursed her for rape-related medical expenses.
Rosemary Richi will be entering her senior year at UConn next month.
Kylie Angell, Erica Daniels and Carolyn Luby all graduated.
Heather Linstad, who had been UConn’s first and only coach of women’s hockey for 13 years, resigned in 2013. She previously was the coach for Northeastern and for the U.S. U-18 women’s hockey team.
Dr. Thomas Trojian, is a team physician for women’s hockey as well as other UConn teams. He is an associate professor of family medicine and director of the Injury Prevention and Sports Outreach Programs at the UConn Health Center.
The athletic department has not indicated if any action was taken against the player who allegedly raped Ms. Moccia, if he is still a student, or what his name is.
Another of the male students implicated was originally expelled by UConn, but after an appeal he was permitted to return.
It’s not over for UConn
In spite of the settlement, UConn remains under investigation by the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education for violation of Title IX. Sanctions could include the loss of federal funds for the school.
One state paper, the Connecticut Post, summed up the whole scenario in the headline:
The Post’s columnist and veteran sports writer, Kevin Duffy, called this “a million-dollar mess for UConn.”
With apologies to that respected writer, we will borrow his conclusion.
“This was a disaster for the state university.”
Duffy, Kevin. (2014, July 20). Settlement doesn’t solve UConn’s problem. Connecticut Post, pp. C-1
Eaton-Robb, Pat (2013, Dec. 20). “Rape Victim Kicked Off UConn Hockey Team for Not Being Stable Enough.” Associated Press. <huffingtonpost.com> retrieved 20 July 2140
Megan, Kathleen. (2014, July 18). UConn Settles Civil Rights Lawsuit. The Hartford Courant. <courant. com>
Schlossberg, Tatiana. (2014, July 20). UConn to Pay 1.3 Million to End Suit on Rape Cases. New York Times, pp. A17
Tom Trojian bio. <uconnhuskies.com> retrieved 20 July 2014
Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia Foundation, Inc. “Heather Lindstad” retrieved 20 July 2014