Penn State has agreed to an out-of-court settlement with a sexual assault victim who claimed the university did not protect her from harassment and intimidation following her assault in August 1999.
The terms of the settlement, filed in District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania this week, awarded $17,500 to the woman who was only identified as "Jane Doe."
Also as part of the deal, Penn State agreed to evaluate its current harassment policies with the help of a three-person panel of experts, said Carol Tracy, executive director of Women's Law Project and the victim's attorney. No later than 150 days after its formation, the panel will submit a report with recommendations. Penn State will then make the report's findings public, Tracy said.
"It was clearly a situation where the female student involved had a lot of issues with the university," said university spokesman Steve MacCarthy. "The settlement, we felt, was in the best interest of the institution."
The complaint was filed in March on behalf of the victim by the Philadelphia-based public law center. It alleged Penn State did not take proper steps to protect Jane Doe from harassment during court proceedings against former Penn State wrestlers Nate Parker and Jean Celestin, who were charged with sexually assaulting the woman.
The two former students were charged with sexually assaulting the victim at Parker's off-campus apartment in August 1999. Celestin was found guilty and sentenced to six to 12 months in prison, while Parker was found not guilty on all charges.
The complaint said that during the October 2001 criminal trial, Parker, Celestin and their friends followed Jane Doe to her classes and directed sexual epithets at her, making her fear for her safety. Penn State did nothing to protect the victim, the suit said.
"Penn State's actions constitute deliberate indifference to known, severe and pervasive sexual harassment," the suit said. "Penn State took no action to discipline Parker and Celestin except to suspend them from the wrestling team for the remainder of the year, although they continued to receive their wrestling scholarships and attend classes."
The university decided to settle out of court to avoid court costs that could have soared to six figures, MacCarthy said. The settlement, he added, is not an admission of liability in the case.
"We look at it as we didn't do anything wrong," MacCarthy said. "We handled this in absolutely the best way we could."
The university was asked by the victim's lawyers to delay disciplinary action against Parker and Celestin until after the criminal proceedings, he said.
"We were criticized for waiting," MacCarthy said. "Well, we waited on behalf of the victim's request."
The victim, who Tracy said was pleased with the settlement's outcome, maintains that Penn State handled the situation improperly.
"The plaintiff in this case never wanted money," Tracy said. "The critical factor for her all along was changing policies at Penn State so that this doesn't happen to anyone else."