Eisenberg Cutt Kendell & Olson is pleased to announce that our legal team has secured a $250,000 settlement against Utah State University in a federal lawsuit filed by a sexual assault victim. Our firm represented the victim, Victoria Hewlett, in the high profile case against the university, and in addition to the financial recovery, was able to compel school administrators into making critical changes to its sexual assault policies per the terms of the settlement agreement.
In the lawsuit, our firm alleged that Utah State University failed in its obligations to adequately handle sexual assault allegations against Jason Relopez, a former USU student and member of the Sigma Chi fraternity house. The suit claimed that USU officials were aware of previous assault accusations against Relopez made by five other women, but allowed him to remain enrolled in school without any disciplinary action, after which he sexually assaulted and raped Hewlett at a fraternity house party in July of 2015. Relopez faced criminal charges for sexually assaulting Hewlett, who was 19 at the time of the incident, and another woman, and was sentenced to a year in jail in May 2016.
While there were criminal repercussions for Relopez, the federal civil lawsuit was intended to hold USU accountable for its alleged failures in responding appropriately to the allegations and protecting Hewlett and other students. The suit also alleged that the Gamma Kappa chapter of Sigma Chi was aware of sexual assault allegations against Relopez and his being barred from activities with an affiliate sorority due to his conduct with female members, yet similarly allowed him to remain an active member and continue living in the fraternity house. The case against Sigma Chi and Gamma Kappa is still ongoing.
Justice & Change
While the lawsuit and settlement stem from an unspeakable tragedy for which no amount of money can make amends, it was critical to obtaining justice for Victoria and other victims. It was also crucial to compelling Utah State University to reevaluate and change its policies regarding sexual assault prevention and response efforts. These changes include mandatory training on sexual assault prevention for all new incoming USU students, training employees on their duty to report sexual assault and misconduct under Title IX, requiring once-a-semester reports on allegations and misconduct from fraternities and sororities and twice-a-semester unannounced inspections, and adopting an amnesty program that encourages victims and others with information about misconduct to step forward.
As Partner Jeffrey D. Eisenberg has stated, changes like these at a public university are groundbreaking, and while they took their impetus in a devastating event that could and should have been prevented, they will be critical to preventing similar tragedies in the future.
Our firm is proud to have played a role in securing these important changes and raising awareness about sexual assault on campus, and intends to continue fighting on behalf of Victoria in the next step to complete the case with the local and national chapter of Sigma Chi.
Victoria’s courageousness and willingness to step forward and share her story is a truly commendable act that cannot be understated. It is also one that will help propel reform efforts, protect students, and set a precedent for how our institutions of higher learning should be handling allegations of sexual assault on campus. In fact, Victoria discusses how the path toward progress comes from actions that turn horrible experiences in moments of reform in an opinion article she co-wrote for The Salt Lake Tribune.
Read More in the News
In the age of the #MeToo movement and increased awareness of sexual assault and misconduct, the case against USU has garnered widespread media attention. You can read more about the recent settlement here: