Amanda Tackett says she and her husband were assured by University of Kansas athletic recruiters that their freshman daughter, a rower, would be safe in the school’s dormitories.
“Everything was safe and A-OK,” Tackett says the recruiters told them.
Then her daughter, Daisy Tackett, allegedly was sexually assaulted by a football player at the Jayhawker Towers dormitory.
KU’s assurance and what the Tacketts see as a broken promise are at the heart of a novel lawsuit the parents filed against the university last week, as their daughter recovers at their Florida home.
The lawsuit essentially accuses the university of false advertising and violating the Kansas Consumer Protection Act. Experts say that if successful, the lawsuit could give students another way to prod universities to do more to stop sexual violence on campus.
KU strongly denies the claims in the Tacketts’ suit, but Amanda Tackett said in an interview with The Star, “Our feeling is that the university cannot say their campus and their dorms are safe unless they really are safe.”
Daisy Tackett, then an 18-year-old member of the rowing team, was allegedly assaulted in the fall of 2014, shortly after she arrived on campus. She didn’t report the assault to police.
But after returning for her sophomore year, she did report it to the university, which opened a required investigation under Title IX, the federal anti-discrimination law that deals with gender discrimination, including sexual harassment and sexual violence.
On Tuesday KU said its investigation of the alleged incident has been completed, and a student conduct hearing is pending.
The Tacketts’ lawsuit, filed in Douglas County District Court, charges that the university omitted material facts about incidents of sexual assaults on the campus in efforts to boost enrollment.
Experts say this may be the first such suit applying the false advertising tactic against a public university regarding a sexual assault case. It could open the door for similar lawsuits against colleges and universities across the country where claims of safe campus housing are touted in the competition to attract students.
The Tacketts’ lawsuit asks the court to certify a class of plaintiffs that would include everyone who “sought or obtained enrollment of students” going back three years before the suit was filed, or to March 11, 2013.
The lawsuit asks for an injunction against KU from asserting that its on-campus housing is safe. And it seeks “restitution … of tuitions, fees, housing costs, and other funds unjustly received by KU through use of deceptive acts and practices...”
In denying the claims in the Tacketts’ suit, KU officials say the suit inaccurately portrays the environment on the campus.
“The suggestion that our residence halls are unsafe or that we misrepresent campus safety in our student recruitment is baseless,” said Erinn Barcomb-Peterson, a KU spokeswoman.
In 2015, the university reported 4,818 students living in campus housing. The university has nine residence halls, 12 scholarship halls and two apartment complexes.
“Residence halls are absolutely safe in general, and we go to great lengths to ensure the security of our residents,” Barcomb-Peterson said.
Members of a student security staff, for example, are required to walk throughout residential halls from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. In addition, residents must scan an identification card to enter their building, security cameras are at entrances and exits to all buildings, and KU Public Safety patrols the campus.
But Amanda Tackett said in an interview with The Star on Tuesday that “we believe there are many more victims of on-campus crimes in the dorms. Had we known this, we would not have considered KU as an option.”
The lawsuit lists seven incidents of rape or sexual assault on campus between March 2013 and October 2014. It lists two incidents in which KU football players were arrested on suspicion of sexual assault or battery.
The lawsuit also cites the 2015 KU Campus Security Report, which is required by a federal law called the Clery Act.
The suit said that according to the report, there were 14 rapes on the KU campus in 2014, 10 of them in residence halls. There were 10 cases of fondling on campus in 2014, six of them in residence halls. Clery shows that in 2013 there were 13 reports of forcible sex offenses, including rape and sodomy, on the campus.
Tackett said she and her husband did not check KU’s Clery Act report before their daughter arrived on campus in fall 2014.
“We were aware of underreported rapes on college campuses, but we were assured that everything on KU’s campus was very safe,” she said.
She said the assault has taken an emotional toll on her daughter. “She experienced trauma to such a degree she was stunned,” Tackett said.
The Tacketts, who live in St. Johns, Fla., say their daughter was living in Naismith Hall at the time she was reportedly raped at Jayhawker Towers, which the lawsuit said “has a specific history of publicly reported sexual assaults of women…”
Amanda Tackett thinks her daughter didn’t go to the police because she may have thought she would not be believed.
“But I can tell you my daughter is a strong girl,” she said.
Last year in a discussion of campus rape at a University of Kansas Student Senate meeting, her mother said, Daisy spoke up and said, “I think that anyone who rapes someone on this campus should be expelled.” But at the time her fellow senators did not know she had been assaulted.
Tackett said her daughter, whom she describes as having been “an involved student who really cares about all the students,” later went to Title IX officials to support other students who have said they, too, had been assaulted on the campus.
The Tackett’s lawyer, Dan Curry, said Daisy Tackett reported the alleged assault to the university Office of Institutional Access and Opportunity in October 2015 and was subsequently harassed on campus by the alleged assailant. She left KU in her sophomore year and returned to Florida.
How colleges and universities handle sexual assaults and rapes on their campuses has been under a national spotlight.
In the last few years, college campuses across the country report they have increased services aimed at sexual assault prevention, including how those accused of assault are penalized.
For example, KU last October opened its new Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Center to serve as the central coordinating office for the school’s sexual assault prevention and education programming.
At the University of Missouri, campus leaders in 2014 established a Title IX office and hired an administrator and staff. Last year a sexual violence prevention and campus climate task force was created.
Still, students and parents say students are continuing to be raped and colleges and universities can do better.
Experts said the Tackett suit could set a precedent for how victims of sexual violence on college campuses go after universities in Title IX cases.
Such a case avoids lawyers having to prove there was deliberate indifference on the school’s part, said Wendy Murphy, a longtime sexual violence defense attorney and professor at the New England School of Law in Boston.
Title IX lawsuits against a university are hard to win, Murphy said. She believes most schools would rather take the chance that a family will not sue than risk being more upfront about how dangerous dormitory living can be and risk losing students and tuition dollars.
A false advertising lawsuit, she said, provides lawyers with another approach.
“More schools should expect to be sued…,” Murphy said. “It is a reasonable approach as a litigation strategy. This is what consumer protection laws are for, to make sure that consumers are not being defrauded by promises that are not legitimate or sincere or being backed up by policy that will ensure that the promise has meaning behind it.”
Curry said KU has claimed “on its website, in a promotional video and in a marketing campaign that dorms are safe and secure, and at the same time they know there are assaults happening every year in these places.”
The U.S. Department of Education is investigating KU for the way it handled two cases of reported sexual violence or harassment in 2014 and 2015. A department spokesman said he could not provide details other than that both cases remain open. Four such cases are open for Kansas State University.
Angela Murphy, a doctoral student at KU and a friend of Daisy Tackett, has been involved with trying to change the way KU handles sexual assault on its campus for several years.
“It is frustrating,” said Murphy, a Springfield resident, who was co-chair of KU’s sexual assault task force created by Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little last year. She said she believes the Tackett lawsuit will go a long way to force the university to be more open about the sexual assaults that occur on the campus.
“This is about telling the truth and sticking to the facts. If you have a problem then say so,” Murphy said. “I think this lawsuit could bring about positive change…”
The university declined to comment further about the possible impact of the lawsuit, and the Kansas Board of Regents, which governs the state’s six four-year public universities, said it would not comment on pending litigation.
Joyce Grover, executive director of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, said the lawsuit is an indication of the devastating effects of sexual abuse on campuses.
“Families, friends and survivors are desperate to get the attention of people that this is an incredibly serious issue,” Grover said. “I think what we're seeing is people looking for ways to get changes made and made quickly.”