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Simpson v. University of Colorado

Last Update: August 24, 2006

What's at Stake

The appellants in this case, Lisa Simpson and Anne Gilmore, alleged that while they were students at the University of Colorado (CU) they were sexually assaulted by CU football players and recruits. They sued the University for sexual harassment. They lost in the trial court and appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

In August 2006 the ACLU Women’s Rights Project and Racial Justice Program, joined by the ACLU of Colorado, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., Legal Momentum, the National Partnership for Women and Families, and many other leading civil rights and women’s rights organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the matter of Simpson v. University of Colorado on behalf of the appellants. The ACLU brief argued that the University is liable under Title IX for the sexual assault of Ms. Simpson and Ms. Gilmore because the University was on notice of a pattern of sexual assault and harassment in the football program and acted with deliberate indifference to the ongoing culture of hostility and abuse of women.

In September 2007 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit found for the appellants and reversed the trial court’s summary judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. The appellate court found that there was sufficient evidence to suggest that the University of Colorado “had an official policy of showing high school football recruits a ‘good time’ on their visits to the CU campus,” that it “failed to provide adequate supervision and guidance to player-hosts chosen to show the recruits a ‘good time’,” and that “the likelihood of such misconduct was so obvious that CU’s failure was the result of deliberate indifference” and thus Ms. Simpson and Ms. Gilmore’s suit should proceed. The unequivocal language of the Tenth Circuit sends a clear message to educational institutions that it is the responsibility of the institution to ensure that every student has equal educational opportunity and that female students are harmed when a institution acts with deliberate indifference to reports of a hostile environment.

Following this ruling from the Court of Appeals, in December 2007 the University of Colorado settled the case and agreed to pay Lisa Simpson $2.5 million, hire a new counselor for the Office of Victim’s Assistance and appoint an independent, outside Title IX advisor. The advisor will be available to all individuals reporting sexual harassment or assault, will address concerns with CU’s response to complaints and will review and make recommendations to the university regarding compliance with Title IX.

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