Student sues YU over alleged rape by basketball player
A Yeshiva University student filed a lawsuit Monday against the school, accusing it of conducting a “sham investigation” into her allegation that a member of the school’s basketball team raped her in 2021.
The lawsuit also alleges that YU in past decades glossed over multiple incidents of sexual abuse and failed to protect its students.
“After surviving her worst nightmare, she was shocked and appalled at the craven and callous behavior of the Yeshiva University officials charged with the sacred duties of protecting YU students and punishing those who egregiously violated YU’s Torah based code of conduct,” said the student’s attorney, Kevin T. Mulhearn, in a statement.
The student, named “Jane Doe” in the lawsuit, anonymously went public with her story last summer in an essay she wrote in the student newspaper, the YU Commentator.
After an inquiry, YU determined that the player was not responsible for sexual assault.
In a statement, Yeshiva University said the lawsuit is unfounded.
“We are fully confident that this matter was appropriately and thoroughly investigated,” a spokesperson for the school said.
Seyfarth Shaw — the firm where Dov Kesselman, who led YU’s inquiry into the student’s rape allegation, is a partner, and which is named in the suit — responded to the lawsuit in a statement:
“The firm conducted a thorough investigation and submitted a conclusive report supported by all the evidence,” read the statement. “The claims asserted in this complaint are entirely without merit and the firm looks forward to presenting the facts of this matter before the Court.”
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, targets the university and several YU officials, including General Counsel Avi Lauer and Chaim Nissel, former director of its Title IX office and currently the school’s vice provost. Title IX is the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs supported by the federal government.
The lawsuit does not specify damages, but alleges that the university chose to dismiss the plaintiff’s Title IX complaint and instead handle her allegation as a “non-Title IX disciplinary matter” to skirt federal regulations and ultimately protect the school’s $613 million “Rise Up” fundraising campaign.
According to the student, the school did not inform her that it had rejected her complaint under grounds that the alleged incident occurred off campus. Instead, the filing alleges, the university strung the plaintiff along under the impression her Title IX complaint was still open.
And the investigation, which the school deemed independent, was actually fraught with conflicts of interest, the suit claims.
Kesselman is a YU alum, one of dozens of attorneys who volunteer to advise the university on legal matters. The Forward reported his involvement in the investigation in January.
And his firm, Seyfarth Shaw, has represented YU in lawsuits brought by former students who say they were assaulted by faculty during their time there.
The firm did not attempt to interview at least two witnesses the plaintiff provided, she told a Forward reporter last summer.
While not addressing any of the student’s claims directly, Yeshiva, in its statement on Monday, defended its investigation.
“The firm hired by Yeshiva University, including the female lead investigator who is a former Title IX coordinator at a top five national university, conducted a thorough investigation and submitted a conclusive report supported by all the evidence,” the university spokesperson wrote. “We also engaged an additional investigative firm to review this matter led by a former Manhattan Sex Crimes prosecutor, who validated the earlier process and agreed with the conclusion. We at Yeshiva University take seriously our duty to do all we can to prevent and address sexual assault within our campus atmosphere and surrounding areas.”
In an interview, Mulhearn, who is also representing 51 former Yeshiva students in a Child Victims Act lawsuit against the school, said his client was seeking a trial.
“Her number one priority is to prevent this from happening to any other YU student,” Mulhearn said.
The university’s basketball program is a point of pride for YU. The Maccabees went on a 50-game win streak between 2019 and 2021 — the second-longest in the history of Division III — and the team was featured in ESPN.