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Occidental College settles with students in sexual assault case

September 18, 2013|By Jason Felch and Jason Song
  • Attorney Gloria Allred, seated, left, with Occidental College professor Caroline Heldman and Occidental students and others at an April news conference when they announced the filing of a complaint against Occidental over the college's handling of sexual assault allegations.
Attorney Gloria Allred, seated, left, with Occidental College professor… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

Occidental College has reached a monetary settlement with at least 10 current and former students who were part of a federal complaint that accused officials at the Eagle Rock campus of repeatedly mishandling  allegations of sexual assault, according to three sources familiar with the agreement.

During talks last week, senior officials at the liberal arts college agreed to pay the women an undisclosed sum on the condition that they not speak publicly about the college’s handling of their cases, the sources said.

The women — all represented by Gloria Allred’s law firm — were among 37 who claimed that Occidental deliberately discouraged alleged victims from reporting sexual assaults, misled students about their rights during campus investigations and retaliated against whistle-blowers who criticized the college’s handling of the cases.

The complaint, first filed in April, has since been revised to include allegations from 13 additional people, including some faculty members, bringing the total number of complainants to 50. Federal investigators are expected to visit the college in coming weeks, the sources said. 

The federal Title IX complaint contains allegations from students and alumni who said: “Occidental College has fostered a hostile learning environment through decisions designed to bury the true numbers of sexual assaults on campus.” When alleged victims went to administrators for help, the complaint said, they reported being “betrayed by campus administrators, and re-victimized.”

In a prepared statement, Occidental spokesman Jim Tranquada said Wednesday, “We cannot comment except to say that this matter has been resolved. It is a confidential matter and we intend to honor the confidentiality and privacy of those involved.

"The college continues to move ahead with its efforts to address this important issue and make Occidental a national leader in dealing with sexual misconduct.”

Over the summer the college adopted a new interim sexual misconduct policy and recently hired an advocate for abuse survivors, Tranquada said. The college has also created a 24-hour telephone hotline and expanded preventive education programs for all students.

Allred declined to comment via email, saying, “It is a confidential matter, and we intend to honor the confidentiality and privacy of those that are involved.”

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Twitter: @jasonfelch

jason.felch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latjasonsong

jason.song@latimes.com

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