A federal lawsuit was filed against East Stroudsburg University in July 2022 for alleged Title IX violations, and the Stroud Courier has recently obtained a complete copy of the complaint.
Attorney Tara G. Giarratano of Dyller Law Firm in Wilkes-Barre, who is representing the plaintiff, says the university is not offering students the protection they deserve.
“We want to help our clients and put a stop to what’s happening at East Stroudsburg,” said Giarratano.
The plaintiff, currently a student at ESU, is filing a lawsuit against ESU, Lanette Jones and Maria Cutsinger.
At the time of the incident, Jones was the Title IX Coordinator at ESU and Cutsinger was a student misconduct official.
Jones has since then resigned from her position and Custinger appointed Director of Student Conduct & Community Standards.
“This action arises out of violations of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972,” the complaint states.
The plaintiff’s story in the lawsuit states: On November 29, 2021, at approximately 11 p.m., the plaintiff left her dorm room in Hawthorne Hall at ESU to take her emotional support dog outside.
The plaintiff was approached by a male student who yelled her name and attempted to follow her. The plaintiff FaceTimed her roommate and asked her to watch their interaction from their dorm window above, according to the complaint.
The male student allegedly tried to convince the plaintiff to come back to his room to smoke and drink, but she repeatedly declined. Once back in her room, the plaintiff alleges she received multiple messages from the male student via Snapchat until she blocked him, according to the complaint.
After being settled into bed, the plaintiff and her roommate heard knocking on their door. The male student tried to persist that the roommate let him talk to the plaintiff, but she refused and locked the door on him, explains the complaint.
“[The roommate] then called the on-duty phone number, which is a phone number ESU students are instructed to use to reach an on-duty university employee during an emergency,” the complaint states. However, no one answered the phone.
At approximately 3 a.m., the plaintiff was awakened to the male student pounding on her door and rattling the handle. The plaintiff tried to call the emergency hotline after the male student was spotted lingering around the hallway, but again no one answered. She called the number one more time and still received no answer, states the complaint.
“The following day, on November 30, 2021, [the plaintiff] reported the incident to her resident assistant,” the complaint reads. The resident assistant forwarded the notes to the head resident assistant.
“Upon information and belief, the head resident assistant had also been sexually harassed by [the male student] in the past, and been granted a no-contact order against [the male student] through the ESU Title IX office,” the complaint states.
The plaintiff made an appointment with Jones in the Title IX office on December 10, 2021, states the complaint.
Jones allegedly informed her that her options were to file a formal Title IX Complaint or obtain a no contact order against the male student, according to the complaint.
The plaintiff told Jones that she would file a formal complaint that day, but Jones did not elaborate on the steps required to do so. The plaintiff left the office under the intention that the complaint would be filed and there were no other steps she had to take, explains the complaint.
The no contact order was the only document entered on December 10, 2021, states the complaint.
The plaintiff took it upon herself to follow up on the status of the Title IX case with Jones in her office on December 13, 2021. Jones allegedly never mentioned that the formal Title IX complaint was never filed, and the plaintiff never heard back from anyone in the office throughout the month of December 2021, according to the complaint.
When the plaintiff returned to campus after winter break on January 18, 2022, she contacted Jones, inquiring about the status of the Title IX case. The plaintiff met with Jones in her office on January 19, 2022, where Jones admitted that she never filed a formal Title IX complaint, explains the complaint.
“For the first time, Jones explained to [the plaintiff] that filing a formal complaint required submitting a writing to the Title IX Coordinator,” the complaint claims.
The plaintiff submitted the writing for the formal complaint immediately upon the end of the meeting, states the complaint.
During the January 19, 2022 meeting, Jones, according to the complaint, suggested that the plaintiff move out of her dorm which the male student also lived in.
Jones informed the plaintiff that ESU and the Title IX office could only make the male student move out if he touched her inappropriately, according to the complaint.
On January 20, the male student violated the no contact order by banging on the plaintiff’s door and shouting inappropriate phrases at her, explains the complaint. The plaintiff and her roommate videoed the incident and called Jones who called the police.
ESU took no action to reprimand or sanction the male student for violating the order, according to the complaint.
ESU directed Cutsinger to discuss the January 20, 2022 incident with the plaintiff, states the complaint.
“Maria repeatedly asked the plaintiff, ‘are you sure you didn’t have a relationship with [the male student]?’ When [the plaintiff] told her no, that she had not, Maria responded that ‘I don’t know why he would do this if you didn’t have a relationship with him,” the complaint states.
On January 31, 2022, the plaintiff contacted Jones, asking her to inform her professors of the Title IX complaint because her academic ability was declining as a result of the trauma she was suffering, explains the complaint.
“On February 4, 2022, Jones resigned from ESU, leaving the plaintiff without any point of contact at the Title IX Office,” the complaint states.
On February 12, 2022, the plaintiff moved off campus to protect herself, states the complaint.
On February 15, 2022, the plaintiff learned that none of her professors were notified of the Title IX complaint as she had previously requested, it states.
Also on February 15, 2022, the plaintiff learned that Dr. Santiago Solis was appointed interim Title IX Coordinator, and Solis allegedly told the plaintiff that there was no documentation that she had filed a Title IX complaint, according to the complaint.
The plaintiff resubmitted her written Title IX complaint, and ESU subsequently assigned the plaintiff a new Title IX Coordinator, Ariel Tucci, who the plaintiff never heard from, according to the complaint.
“On March 4, 2022, [the plaintiff] learned that [the male student] withdrew from ESU, meaning ESU would close out the case it never opened in the first place,” the complaint states.
The plaintiff is suing ESU on three counts of post-harassment deliberate indifference and one count of failure to train.
The plaintiff is suing Jones on three counts of equal protection and post-harassment deliberate indifference.
The plaintiff is suing Cutsinger on one count of equal protection and post-harassment deliberate indifference.
Seeking comment on the story, the Stroud Courier reached out to Brian Akonu, president of the Student Government Association; and Ariel Tucci, current Interim Director of the Gender and Sexuality Center. Neither has responded to those inquiries so far.
The Stroud Courier also reached out to the office of marketing and communications who stated, “The university cannot comment on ongoing investigations and litigations.”
The story of a federal lawsuit where ESU officials are alleged to have failed to protect students will have disturbing echoes of the Isaac Sanders affair from a decade ago, a case that took years and multiple legal actions to wend its way through the federal courts.
The Stroud Courier has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to learn how much, in legal costs, ESU and/or the state system has spent, so far, to defend itself against this latest lawsuit. Since the story’s first publication, the University has requested a 30 day extension, until May 5, to provide a written response to the Stroud Courier’s Freedom of Information Act request.
Editor’s Note: Like most news organizations post-#MeToo, the Stroud Courier does not name alleged victims of sexual harassment crimes unless that person specifically asks to be named.
Clarification: An earlier version of this story suggested that ESU University Relations had not responded to inquiries from the Stroud Courier. It turns out, University Relations had never received the inquiries due to an email-domain protocol naming error.