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Another lawsuit was filed Sunday evening against Tamiko Strickman, associate vice president of the University of Michigan’s Office of Institutional Equity, alleging she and other University of Nebraska-Lincoln personnel mishandled a student’s sexual misconduct report. The first lawsuit, filed in July 2020, accused Strickman of violating sex discrimination and civil rights law at UNL.
The July 2020 lawsuit also states that Strickman was terminated from UNL in December 2019, a claim that both University of Michigan spokesman Rick Fitzgerald and UNL spokesperson Leslie Reed denied to The Daily in July. The suit names nine current or former UNL students as plaintiffs.
Strickman did not respond to The Daily’s request for comment in time for publication.
Strickman previously served as the UNL interim Title IX coordinator and director of the UNL Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance, but she left in 2019 under disputed circumstances.
Sunday’s lawsuit, filed by Title IX lawyers Karen Truszkowski and Elizabeth Abdnour, details a new set of allegations against Strickman and other UNL personnel for their handling of a former graduate student’s report of alleged harassment. The student alleges that a professor harassed her while she was enrolled in a Ph.D program at UNL. A copy of the lawsuit was obtained by The Daily.
The new lawsuit states the student experienced “numerous violations of her rights” in UNL’s reporting and investigation process. Strickman is specifically accused of pressuring the student to drop her case, making false statements about the investigation to the student and ignoring the student’s questions about the investigation, among other allegations.
“When Plaintiff went to the IEC (Institutional Equity and Compliance) office to check on the status of her case, Strickman made Plaintiff feel like she was the harasser rather than the victim,” the lawsuit reads. “Strickman would speak to Plaintiff in an angry tone that made Plaintiff feel like she was wasting her time.”
The unnamed plaintiff in Sunday’s lawsuit was a graduate student at UNL from 2014 to 2017. She alleges that her unnamed faculty adviser, referred to as John Roe in the court filings, kissed her on the lips in his office without her consent. She was 26 years old and married at the time of the alleged incident; he was over 60.
After she attempted to limit interactions with him after the incident, she alleges he started a “retaliation campaign” against her to limit her interactions with other instructors, increase her financial dependence on him and humiliate her in front of her colleagues.
The alleged romantic advances also escalated from there, the lawsuit states.
In what the lawsuit describes as the “worst” instance of retaliation, the professor allegedly demoted the student from first to second author on a research paper without giving her prior notice, a decision which compromised her ability to fulfill degree requirements.
During the investigation, which took place during the summer of 2016, the plaintiff’s primary points of contact were Strickman and fellow UNL IEC employee Susan Foster, according to a letter to the student mentioned in the lawsuit that was signed by Strickman. Following the conclusion of the investigation in August 2016, a no-contact directive was put in place between the student and professor.
The student alleges the harassment from the professor did not stop, leading her to file a second report with IEC in October 2016. According to the lawsuit, no investigation was opened into the second complaint. This led the student to transfer to another university and begin her program again there.
“Plaintiff had been hopeful that UNL would protect her from Roe’s harassment and retaliation, but her faith in the school had been completely broken,” the lawsuit reads.
In an email to The Daily Monday afternoon, Abdnour, one of the Title IX lawyers on the case, wrote that the new lawsuit has much in common with the July 2020 one, as both reveal discrepancies between UNL’s policies and their practices.
Sunday’s lawsuit differs from the one filed in July because it is only on behalf of one plaintiff, rather than multiple. The July lawsuit — which names nine current or former UNL students as plaintiffs — accused Strickman of mishandling numerous sexual assault cases and violating gender equality and racial discrimmination laws during her time at UNL.
“The data and information we have collected at Nebraska indicates that there was a serious disconnect there between what the Title IX office said it was doing and how the campus community experienced the investigatory and response process,” Abdnour wrote.
In the past, Strickman has voiced support for the University of Michigan’s own Title IX procedures, including the sole investigator model affirmed by the interim policy which took effect in August 2020. This model assigns a sole investigator to a case, who conducts outreach to those involved in the case. An analysis is then done with the investigator’s research and a conclusion is reached (either violation or no violation).
The interim umbrella policy also introduced updates to the definitions of prohibited conduct and laid out separate procedures for cases of alleged employee versus student misconduct.
When asked to comment on the lawsuit, University of Michigan spokesman Rick Fitzgerald directed The Daily to UNL’s media contact and stated the University has nothing further to add on “a University of Nebraska matter.”
Reed, the UNL spokesperson, declined to comment, saying UNL does not comment on pending lawsuits and Title IX actions.
This case is also not the first time the University of Michigan’s OIE leadership have faced scrutiny. The Wilmerhale investigation into decades of harassment from former Provost Martin Philbert called into question his role overseeing OIE, as well as the results of investigations that occurred during his tenure.
Abdnour said Sunday’s lawsuit is indicative of a larger pattern of misconduct and harassment from those in positions of power at the University.
“Based on recent reports of harassment by Martin Philbert, Stephen Shipps, and Peter Chen, among others, UM appears to have a particularly acute and systemic problem with professors and high level administrators, who are in positions of authority, abusing that power via sexual harassment of students and lower-level employees,” Abdnour wrote. “The university needs to take a realistic look at whether students and employees truly feel comfortable reporting and trust that OIE is going to properly investigate and hold abusers accountable.”
Daily Staff Reporter Julianna Morano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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