Eastern Michigan University has settled lawsuits filed by two dozen former and current students who accused the school of mishandling sexual assault complaints, university officials confirmed Friday in a written statement.
The Detroit Free Press reported this week that the deal involved a $6.85 million payment by the university. On Friday, university officials declined to reveal specifics about the settlement, citing a confidentiality agreement that was part of the deal.
According to the statement the university did release, included below, EMU reached an agreement that covered all of the Title IX cases filed in the wake of a series of sexual assault accusations against former Eastern students in 2020. As those cases moved through the Washtenaw County criminal court system, students who said they were assaulted filed the Title IX civil suits claiming that the university failed to properly investigate their complaints.
The cases sparked multiple on- and off-campus protests by students.
The Echo reached out to the university’s Chief Diversity Officer, Dwight Hamilton, who oversees multiple offices including the Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response. Hamilton joined the University in September 2023.
When asked for information on how EMU handled the settlement, Hamilton said he could not discuss the case due to the “confidentiality agreement that precludes me from speaking about the settlement.”
Melissa Thrasher, the university's executive director of media relations, responded to questions with the following statement, sent by email:
“Due to the settlement structure, we are unable to discuss it," she said in the statement.
“There is no question that campus sexual assault is a serious challenge in our nation and must unite us in a powerful commitment going forward," Thrasher said. "We will conduct these and other ongoing efforts and will keep our Title IX office functioning effectively and efficiently, providing holistic, caring services to all who seek them out."
The email included EMU’s Title IX lawsuit statement.
The complete statement from Eastern Michigan University:
Eastern Michigan University has reached an amicable resolution with all the plaintiffs involved in the Title IX-related lawsuits against the University. This resolution covers all of the ongoing Title IX lawsuits. We look forward to continuing our commitment to provide exemplary and caring Title IX services to all who seek them on our campus.
EMU Looks to the Future of Title IX on Campus
Eastern Michigan University aims to provide the best, most robust, communicative, caring and inclusive Title IX experience possible. To this end, we’ve undertaken several efforts to help the University meet the needs of students as Title IX guidance evolves.”
- Cozen O’Connor Report. We hired independent external investigators from a nationally recognized firm to examine EMU’s handling of some of the sexual misconduct matters at the center of the lawsuits. The investigators reviewed thousands of documents and interviewed several internal and external witnesses, providing us with a thorough report and recommendations for creating an exceptional, caring and supportive Title IX experience on campus. The complete report was made public immediately after it was received, in May 2022.
- Input from Student Groups. President Smith and several University leaders are committed to continuing meetings with student organizations and groups formed to discuss pressing issues and concerns aimed at preventing sexual assault on campus, providing support in its aftermath, and offering a regular conduit for information and understanding.
- Visibility, Personnel and Resources. We've moved our Title IX office (now called the Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response Office) to the Student Center, to provide services in a location that students find welcoming and supportive. We’ve also changed its reporting structure so that the office now reports to the University’s Chief Diversity Officer, a seasoned Title IX administrator and senior leader at the university. We have also increased the capacity of the office, adding another position to provide consistent, timely service regarding communications and investigations. And, we've strengthened our relationships with outside investigations firms to provide efficient service to all who come to the Title IX office.
- Policies & Procedures. We've implemented numerous recommendations and revamped our policies and procedures to keep up-to-date with the latest case law and federal regulations as they change, to better serve both students who come forward to report potential Title IX violations, and respondents whose due process rights must be upheld. We are constantly working to ensure our campus community is aware of our efforts in this regard.
- Case Management Software. We're in the process of significantly upgrading our software system in the Title IX area, and we require mandatory annual Title IX training for all students.
- New Resources. We recently received a grant that helped pay for the creation and distribution of a new Survivor Handbook, Title IX Resource Guide, and additional Title IX resource materials, all available to University community members.
- Title IX Website. Our Title IX website includes a Resources section, a Training section, and model syllabus language for instructors to include in their classes.
- Additional Training for Title IX Personnel. We have invested in additional training for our Title IX staff and the EMU staff who serve on hearing panels that are part of our Title IX grievance process.
- Institutional ATIXA membership. We have purchased an institution-wide, annual membership to Association of Title IX Administrators (ATIXA) that provides EMU employees with numerous benefits, including access to free training webinars, access to ATIXA services and products, as well as complimentary registrations to ATIXA Certification Courses for Higher Education.
The original complaints also lead to 2022 agreements in which the Sigma Kappa sorority and Theta Chi fraternity settled lawsuits involving 24 claims of sexual assault. The original accusations included complaints that the assaults occurred in those houses. Incidents were also claimed to happen in Delta Tau Delta house, which also settled. Alpha Sigma Phi disassociated from EMU after the allegations were made public.
Other defendants in that lawsuit included former Title IX Director Melody Werner, who left the university in 2019, former Greek Life coordinator Kyle Martin, who left in 2019, the entire Board of Regents, outgoing EMU Police Chief Robert Heighes, who left in 2021, and former Deputy Chief Daniel Karrick, who left in 2021.
In 2021, four former EMU students were accused of raping and touching women without consent. Three of the men, Dustyn Durbin, Thomas Hernandez, and D’Angelo McWilliams, a former Washtenaw County Sheriff’s deputy, faced criminal charges.