Lawsuit: Notre Dame protected football player above student accusing him of sexual assault


A poster with song lyrics in the final room of the “Tunnel of Oppression” on Feb. 27, 2017, in Grinnell Hall. Visitors were able to walk through the room and read various song lyrics and facts about sexual assault. (Branda Mitchell | @branda_mitchell)

A former University of Notre Dame student is suing the school, claiming that campus officials wanted her to drop a sexual assault complaint against a football player so he could transfer to another school with a clean record.

The lawsuit, which the student filed last month under the alias Jane Doe, alleges Doe escorted a drunken player to his dorm room in January 2016 and was assaulted there. She also says the player shattered her cellphone when she tried to call a friend for help.

The athlete, who lost his football scholarship a short time later and left the university, is referred to as “Jack Roe” in the lawsuit. He has not been charged with any crime.


The university released a statement saying the lawsuit contains many inaccuracies, which it will address in court.

“The claim that Notre Dame was motivated to assist the accused student to transfer is one of many false statements in the complaint,” university spokesman Paul Browne said in a statement. “Like every university, Notre Dame has a legal obligation to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct. It takes this obligation and the safety of its students seriously, and proceeds in a manner that is as respectful as possible of the privacy of the students involved. We did so in this case.”

According to the suit, the woman did not report the alleged crime to police or university officials because she feared the player. At the time of the alleged assault, she was a student at Holy Cross College in South Bend, Indiana, which is affiliated with Notre Dame, and had plans to transfer to the larger university.

“Jane called a classmate in an effort to escape the incident,” the lawsuit states. “In a rage, Roe grabbed her phone and shattered it on the table in his dorm room. That display of violence was a bit suffocating to anyone who would dare breathe a word of it.”

Three months after the alleged crime, a Notre Dame student approached Doe and asked her to support a second woman who said she also had been raped by the player, the lawsuit states. The intervening student then shared Doe’s story in mid-April with the university’s Title IX office, which handles sexual assault and harassment allegations.

The Title IX office contacted Doe, who did not want to file a complaint. The school continued to look into the situation without her assistance and eventually determined the player’s name through other means, according to the lawsuit.

By the time the Title IX office learned the football player’s identity, he already had lost his scholarship because of academic reasons and was looking to transfer to another school, according to a source familiar with the case. The Title IX office placed a hold on any transfer request until the sexual assault case was finished, the source said.


Doe became even more reluctant to participate in the investigation later that spring when a campus official told her the player would be notified of her allegation against him, the lawsuit states. The woman called her father to tell him, for the first time, about the alleged assault and subsequent campus investigation.

Doe and her father both wanted the second woman’s allegation investigated, but they had their doubts about the seriousness of the school’s review and asked that Doe’s name not be disclosed to the football player, according to the lawsuit.

As part of its standard policy involving sex assault allegations, the university sent the athlete a no-contact order, disclosing Doe’s name and requiring him to stay away from her.

“She wanted to keep this private and move on,” her attorney Peter Agostino said. “She was pulled into the investigation against her wishes, and then it was abruptly stopped.”

Doe, who enrolled at the university in fall 2016, was concerned about running into the football player on campus and shared those fears with the Notre Dame official handling her case. The official recommended that she close the sexual assault investigation so the player could transfer to another school without any problems, the lawsuit states.

“Of course, this made perfect sense if Notre Dame was interested in opening up a scholarship for another football player and sweeping Roe’s conduct under the rug, disregarding Jane’s interests and serving only their own,” the lawsuit states.

Notre Dame denies it asked Doe to help facilitate the player’s transfer request.

The lawsuit states Doe agreed to close the case, even though she never asked for it to be opened. The player initially was slated to transfer to another college football powerhouse in 2016. He has not been on the football roster there, and it is unclear whether he is enrolled as a student.

Doe, who withdrew from Notre Dame after attending one semester, is suing the university for invasion of privacy, breach of contract, negligence and violation of Title IX, a federal law that prohibits gender discrimination.

The lawsuit, which was filed in St. Joseph County, Ind., comes as the U.S. Department of Education is investigating two complaints related to sexual violence on the Notre Dame campus, neither of which involve Doe’s case.

Notre Dame was the subject of one of the first Title IX inquiries launched under the Obama administration’s heightened approach after the school was accused of mishandling a complaint that a football player had sexually attacked a student in 2010. The university, which agreed to implement a number of reforms as a result, has said it views the Obama-era policies as largely positive because “they encouraged victims to come forward, and colleges and universities to support them when they did.”

The Trump administration last week announced plans to dramatically change how universities respond to sex assault allegations, saying the current policies do not provide enough protection for students accused of sexual violence.

A study released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics last year found that about 1 in every 5 undergraduate women reported experiencing sexual assault since entering college.

The U.S. Department of Education has 16 open inquiries involving sexual violence at eight colleges and universities in Illinois. There are 360 such pending investigations at 257 campuses nationwide.


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