Judge dismisses university from Title IX lawsuit involving former softball player’s alleged rape

Kent State was dismissed Tuesday from a Title IX lawsuit filed in Feb. 2016 by former softball player Lauren Kesterson.

U.S. District Judge Sara Lioi said in her ruling “there is absolutely no evidence in the record that would support a finding that Kent State chose to ignore Title IX’s mandate for equal education opportunities.”  Current coach Eric Oakley was also granted a summary judgment and dismissed from the case.

In a statement, the university said: “This judgment reinforces what we have said from the beginning: Kent State University followed all rules and procedures under Title IX in support of our students. The judgment speaks for itself.”  

A “summary judgment” is a judgment issued by a court for one party and against another. 

Former coach Karen Linder was granted only partial relief in the case, with the court finding there were factual differences between Linder and Kesterson’s accounts about whether Kesterson should discuss her alleged rape by Linder’s son. The court said it could be viewed as a matter of suppression or coercion and constitute deliberate indifference.

Linder was also denied relief on Kesterson’s “class-of-one equal protection claim,” where Kesterson said her rape report was treated differently by Linder than another report brought forward by another softball player. 

In her lawsuit, Kesterson said former softball coach Karen Linder’s son, Tucker, raped Kesterson in her dorm room in December 2012. When Kesterson met with Karen Linder in May 2014 and told her about the rape, she said the coach failed to report it to the university as required by its policy and federal law. Kesterson met in March 2015 with Erin Barton, the university’s deputy coordinator for Title IX at the time, and filed her own Title IX report.

Kesterson said she reported Tucker Linder’s actions to the athletic department in August 2015, but Director of Athletics Joel Nielsen intervened to stop the filing of a formal complaint and no-contact orders, according to the lawsuit. It also says Karen Linder blamed her resignation later that month on Kesterson, which caused retaliation against Kesterson from teammates, coaches and alumni.

“My client is determined to hold Kent State accountable for their actions,” Kesterson’s lawyer Ashlie Sletvold said in response to the judgment.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include statements from the university and Sletvold.