Light & Verity

Employee lawsuit over Title IX issues

A security educator claims she was punished for pointing out compliance problems.

A former Yale employee claims that the university pushed her out for exposing legal violations in its handling of sexual harassment and sexual assault complaints. The university hired Susan Burhans as a “security educator” in 1999, with responsibility for developing “campus safety programs and strategies to ensure Yale’s compliance with Title IX,” the federal sex-discrimination law, Burhans says in a lawsuit filed in US District Court in October.

In that suit and an earlier case, which is pending in state court, Burhans contends that she identified numerous gaps in Yale’s systems for handling complaints of sexual misconduct, including allegations of student-on-student assaults. She says she brought the problems to the attention of her superiors, along with proposed solutions, but met “indifference, hostility, and retaliation in many forms, including job termination.”

Many of the concerns that Burhans says she voiced over Yale’s processes echo those raised much more recently by the students and alumni who last year lodged a separate Title IX complaint with the US Department of Education. Yale settled that complaint in June 2012 without admitting violations. But it has commissioned a high-level report on the “campus climate”; hired one of the report’s authors into the new position of vice president for student life; and made widespread changes in its approach to sexual misconduct complaints.

Responding to Burhans’s federal lawsuit, Yale spokesman Tom Conroy says: “The claim is baseless and Yale will defend it vigorously.” He notes that the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities in 2009 dismissed Burhans’s sex-discrimination complaint against the university. In that complaint, Burhans alleged that Yale passed her over for job openings because she is female. The commission concluded: “There is no nexus between the complainant’s allegations and any discriminatory animus or conduct” by Yale.

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