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Female Ex-Cadet Can Sue for Harassment

Courts: Judge throws out about half her 34 charges and rules that Citadel and five accused male cadets must be tried separately.

October 20, 1999|From Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that the Citadel can be tried for sexual discrimination and five cadets can be tried for sexual harassment of a former female cadet.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Anderson threw out about half the 34 charges brought by former cadet Jeanie Mentavlos, and ordered that the cadets and the once all-male military academy should be tried separately.

Mentavlos, one of four women admitted to the state-run school in 1996, alleges she was hazed and harassed before she dropped out after one semester. She claims Citadel officials violated her civil rights by failing to act against male upperclassmen who were hostile about the admission of women to the longtime all-male school.

Anderson said there was evidence the school may have covered up allegations of harassment, but did not say what that evidence was.

Dawes Cooke, who represents the Citadel, said Mentavlos must prove a continuous course of misconduct. Instead, she has presented "a shotgun blast of numerous types of things," he said.

Mentavlos' attorney, Dick Harpootlian, said he can prove a pattern of harassment based on gender that the school did nothing to stop.

He said the cadets set fire to Mentavlos' shirt to expose her bra and refused to let her put out the fire. She also was permitted just 30 seconds to shower despite telling an upperclassman she was menstruating and needed to tend to personal hygiene matters.

"The Citadel cadets prey on those who are different," Harpootlian said at a hearing Tuesday. "Everything that was done was not because she couldn't cut it, it's because she was a woman."

The cadets are set to go to trial Nov. 12. Anderson said he will make a written decision on whether to toss out the remaining claims against the school pending the outcome of the cadets' trial.

Mentavlos, who graduated from Queens College in Charlotte, N.C., and is teaching sixth grade, did not comment after Tuesday's hearing.

Shannon Faulkner became the first female cadet when she entered the Citadel under a court order in 1995. She dropped out after less than a week, citing the stress of the court fight and her isolation in the corps.

Kim Messer, another female cadet admitted with Mentavlos in 1996, settled her lawsuit last year for $33,750.

A 13-month investigation by the Justice Department supported the women's allegations of physical and verbal abuse, but concluded that many of the male cadets faced the same harassment.

In May, Nancy Mace became the Citadel's first female graduate. She entered in the fall of 1996 with Mentavlos and Messer. The fourth woman, Petra Lovetinska, is expected to graduate next year.

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