In a strong signal to other colleges and universities, the U.S. Department of Education found Penn State to have not properly complied with the Clery Act in a number of serious ways with respect to the reporting and handling of information concerning the alleged sex crimes allegedly committed on campus by former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky was convicted of sexually abusing 10 young boys and 45 accounts related to sexual abuse, and is currently in prison.
While Sandusky was an assistant coach at Penn State, he was seen by another coach allegedly having sex with an underage boy in the showers. This observation was reported to head football coach Joe Paterno and other senior administrators at Penn State. Instead of taking proper actions – including notifying the police and complying with the Clery Act to notify the public and to conduct a full investigation – the university engaged in actions to cover up the alleged crimes.
Sandusky continued to serve as an assistant coach at Penn State long after these actions purportedly occurred, and it was not until approximately the time that he was charged with criminal acts that he was fired.
On November 3, 2016, Penn State was given a letter from the DOE announcing the intended fine of $2,397,500 for what the DOE judged to serious violations of the Clery Act. The amount of this fine is the highest ever levied under the Clery Act. Penn State has until November 25, 2016 to appeal the intended fine; otherwise, the fine become final.
What Does This Fine Mean?
The fine assessed by the U.S. Department of Education is not in itself directly a penalty for the horrible events alleged perpetuated by Sandusky while at Penn State. Instead, the fine is related to the systematic failure by the university to comply with the reporting and other requirements required under the Clery Act, as well as the attempts to cover up or fail to take action when confronted with serious crimes.
The namesake of the Clery Act, Jeanne Clery, was a 19-year old who was raped and killed during her freshman year at Lehigh University in 1986. Following her murder, federal legislation was enacted that requires universities to collect and report information regarding campus crime, and to take essential actions to protect the public and victims after a crime has taken place.
Under the Act, colleges and universities MUST fully investigate all alleged crimes, and to take appropriate action consistent with their findings. Before the Clery Act, in cases such as alleged rape where the victim knew the perpetrator, colleges and universities frequently looked upon these cases as “he said / she said” cases, particularly if the woman had been drinking. The standard response by schools, as a result, was to do nothing and just expect the case to go away. Colleges and universities typically tried to conceal (or at least not make public) these events for fear that they would be seen as not being safe, which could lead to declining enrollment.
This is no longer the case.
Under the Clery Act, colleges and universities must carefully investigate all cases of sexual abuse, and must take all action appropriate to protect victims and the public (including, in cases where a crime is suspected, to notify the police). Colleges and universities may now be held accountable by victims if they were negligent in causing an incident to take place (such as a rape), as well as for not complying with the Clery Act in conducting a proper investigation and protecting the public.
How We Can Help if You Have Been the Victim of Sexual Assault or Other Crime at a College or University
If you have been the victim of sexual assault or another crime at a college or university, the first step is to immediately contact the police, as well as the college or university. Please also contact our firm.
We offer a free consultation so that you can learn about your rights, and the opportunities that may be available to seek compensation against all those responsible, including colleges and universities.