RALEIGH (AP) — A University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student who faces possible expulsion after saying publicly that she’s a rape victim has filed a federal complaint against the school, saying it retaliated against her, her attorney said Monday.
Attorney Clay Turner sent a letter Monday to UNC-CH Chancellor Holden Thorp, advising the school of the complaint that his client, Landen Gambill, filed with the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education. The letter also asks Thorp to dismiss charges filed in the school’s honor-code court against Gambill.
The decision to pursue the honor court violations against Gambill are in retaliation for her participation in a Title IX complaint filed against the university and for her public criticisms of the way the school treats sexual violence survivors, he wrote. He said he is writing Thorp “to demand that you immediately end this reckless prosecution. The retaliatory charges against my client are inappropriate, unconstitutional and utterly without merit.”
Although she has not publicly identified the man she alleges raped her, Gambill is accused violating the honor code by creating an environment that’s intimidating for him. A university hearings board earlier cleared him of sexual assault charges but found him guilty of harassing her. He faces no criminal charges.
“In speaking out for change at UNC, Ms. Gambill is not ‘harassing’ or ‘intimidating’ her abuser, whom she has never named,” Turner wrote. “Rather, the university’s decision to press charges against Ms. Gambill has tragically provided her abuser with the opportunity to harass and intimidate her” despite a no-contact order issued against him last May.
Her complaint marks the third one filed this year against the university concerning sexual assault. Gambill is also one of five women who in January filed a Title IX complaint with the office of civil rights, saying UNC-CH mishandles sexual abuse cases.
And investigators are due on campus next month to investigate whether the school accurately reports campus crimes as required by federal law under the Clery Act, which requires campuses participating in federal financial aid programs to collect and disclose crime statistics and security information.
In his letter, Turner said nothing in the honor code allows the school to punish a student for exercising free speech. “The current threat of expulsion will not stop Ms. Gambill from telling the university she loves it is time to do the right thing,” he said.
A school spokeswoman has said previously that university administrators don’t encourage or prevent charges from being filed in the honor court.
However, Turner said in the letter that the Instrument of Student Judicial Governance, or honor code, says the chancellor is solely responsible for all matters of student discipline.
“They have the power and responsibility to stop it, and they haven’t done so,” Turner said in an interview.
Gambill’s honor court hearing hasn’t been scheduled, and she won’t attend when it is, he said.
UNC-Chapel Hill has denied underreporting crimes and said last week it’s cooperating with the investigations. The university provided DOE last week with a spreadsheet detailing all student complaints of sexual harassment or assault through this month and what was done in each case.
The university also responded by a March 21 deadline to questions posed as part of an investigation by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights.
A school spokeswoman said Monday that UNC was looking into the latest complaint.
OCR could punish a violating university by cutting off federal funding, but that’s never happened. Clery Act investigators can issue fines.
Turner declined to release a copy of Gambill’s OCR complaint. Neither of the other complaints against UNC-CH has been released, but the OCR’s letter acknowledging the investigation alleges that the nation’s oldest public university failed to respond appropriately to sexual assault concerns and that it didn’t provide impartial investigations. The complaint also alleges the school didn’t have appropriate grievance procedures and didn’t provide appropriate training for residential life staff and others.
The school this month hired two new employees to investigate sexual assault allegations and help victims.
Thorp is resigning in June to become the chief academic officer of Washington University in St. Louis.