The Appalachian School of Law and three administrators have been sued by a former professor who claims the Southwest Virginia school failed to follow proper procedures when the instructor complained about harassment and threats from a student.
The professor claims she fled in fear from the school and the town of Grundy when the school failed to protect her in the face of menacing actions and threats by the student, who allegedly assaulted other students
The school hired state Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City, to conduct a Title IX investigation that was “a farce from start to finish,” the lawsuit said. The professor said her experience led to a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder and other health problems while her tormenter avoided any penalty.
According to her lawsuit, Hillary L. Burgess was a visiting associate law professor at ASL in 2015, on leave from her regular position as an assistant professor at Charlotte School of Law.
She said she was targeted by a male student – identified only as “J. Doe” – who disrupted her class and made defiant and unprofessional comments when confronted about his behavior.
Doe once reportedly said, “No woman will ever tell me when I can and can’t talk.” In another incident, he reportedly made eye contact with Burgess as he discussed his collection of firearms.
A staff member reportedly claimed she was drugged and raped by Doe at a school function. Other students claimed they were sexually battered and groped by Doe, the lawsuit said. In 2016, students allegedly approached Burgess to say they were scared for her in light of Doe’s escalating aggression.
Despite such complaints, the school reportedly employed Doe as a bartender at school events.
As the school allegedly dragged its feet on investigating the allegations against Doe, Burgess said she and her family fled from Grundy to an “undisclosed location.”
Once Kilgore was appointed to investigate the complaints about Doe, he repeatedly disclosed Burgess’ “undisclosed location” to Doe, the lawsuit said.
Title IX process
Burgess said the school’s Title IX investigation and hearings were flawed in both procedure and substance.
Kilgore’s report “mischaracterized many of the facts” reported by Burgess, she said. Kilgore told her there was no process for fixing errors, she claimed.
A hearing produced a “sparse, three-page document” in which Doe was found responsible for alleged misconduct involving other students. He was initially required to attend three hours of sexual misconduct training, the suit said.
But even that penalty was reversed in July by an appeal committee that found that Kilgore’s investigative report had not been timely provided to Doe in advance of his hearing, the suit claimed.
“This determination and the failure of ASL to revisit the issue in a subsequent Title IX Investigation makes it abundantly clear that the Title IX Investigation process was a farce from start to finish,” wrote Thomas E. Strelka of Roanoke. He and his partner, Linda L. Strelka, represent Burgess in the lawsuit.
Burgess also claimed that the school forced her to work long hours with inadequate pay on a project related to ASL’s accreditation. She said all of the permanent, tenured, male faculty members “flatly refused to conduct any work on the accreditation documents,” without penalty.
Burgess said she was constructively discharged and applied for disability and workers’ compensation benefits in August.
“She was just fed up with all these Title IX issues,” Strelka said in an interview. “They just didn’t seem to want to grasp the situation,” he added.
Burgess is not currently teaching, Strelka said.
ASL’s interim dean, Sandra Keen McGlothlin, one of the defendants in Burgess’ lawsuit, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Kilgore also did not respond to an email requesting comment. Kilgore is not a defendant in the lawsuit.
Besides McGlothlin, the suit named Title IX coordinator Jina Sauls and ASL Director Patricia Deel. Richmond attorney Vijay K. Mago identified ASL as his client in the matter, but declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The suit was filed May 1 and assigned to U.S. District Judge James P. Jones.