Stockton University is facing numerous suits in federal court accusing it of failing to meet its obligations under Title IX in its handling of a series of cases alleging sexual assault.
In at least seven suits filed as of early September, the plaintiffs, current and former students at Stockton, describe attending fraternity parties where they were drugged and given alcohol before losing consciousness, then waking up with the realization that they had been sexually assaulted.
The suits claim Stockton failed to protect the plaintiffs from the assaults, and then tried to cover up the alleged crimes to minimize damage to the school’s reputation.
Robert Fuggi Jr. of the Fuggi Law Firm in Toms River filed all seven cases against Stockton—four in July, one in August, and, most recently, two filed on Sept. 3.
Besides Stockton, five of the seven suits also name fraternity Pi Kappa Phi as a defendant, which has a house in Egg Harbor, four miles from the Stockton campus in Galloway, where most of the incidents are alleged to have taken place.
Stockton withdrew its recognition of Pi Kappa Phi in 2010 for failure to comply with university policies, but the group’s off-campus house continued to be the site of frequent parties, the suits allege.
The plaintiffs accuse Stockton of having a “hostile educational environment” under Title IX. They cite the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1999 holding in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, that a recipient of federal education funds is subject to a private action for damages where the recipient is “deliberately indifferent” to acts of sexual harassment by one student to another.
Stockton “created a dangerous, sexually charged environment for incoming young women as freshman students,” according to one complaint, filed in D.N. v. Stockton University, which cites a mandatory program on sexuality at the school during “New Student Week.” The program focuses on obtaining a partner’s consent before having sex, and features a video in which offering a cup of tea to another person is used as a metaphor for discussing sex. But the complaint in D.N. said the seminar “demonstrates sexual activity” and was filled with ”inappropriate and sexually charged topics.” The complaint said “mandatory school sponsored assemblies like this explain why Stockton University has the systemic problems it has.”
In another of the suits, a plaintiff identified as M.H. claims she was sexually assaulted by Jessie Matsinger, a former Stockton student and the son of Karen Matsinger, the assistant director of counseling services at Stockton, who was providing counseling to M.H. After M.H. reported the alleged assault to Stockton officials, a hearing conducted pursuant to Title IX concluded M.H.’s testimony lacked credibility, according to the complaint. M.H. said Stockton failed to provide her an “advocate” to guide her through the hearing, in violation of Title IX. It also said Amy Jones, the head of Stockton’s Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, “was supposed to be an advocate for M.H.,” but “was far more preoccupied with protecting her employer and Stockton University and her friend Karen Matsinger who was the mother of the assailant Jesse Matsinger,” the suit claims.
The plaintiffs also brought claims of violation of the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act for the university’s alleged failure to issue timely warnings about crimes involving Pi Kappa Phi, “which posed a serious and ongoing threat to students that Stockton University allowed to occur.” That act is named after a 19-year-old Lehigh University student who was raped and murdered in her dormitory in 1986.
“Stockton had notice that students in this particular fraternity were bad actors. The police were there dozens and dozens and dozens of times for underage drinking, spiking of alcohol or drugging of alcohol,” Fuggi said in an interview. “Stockton should have known this was going on there. The fraternity is made up of Stockton students, but Stockton took no action against students who were part of this rogue fraternity,” Fuggi said.
“What happens is, oftentimes the victim becomes the target because the victim is problematic to the reputation of the school,” he said.
Stockton spokeswoman Diane D’Amico deferred comment to the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, which is representing the university. Lee Moore, a spokesman for the office, declined to comment on the suits.
L. Patricia Sampoli of Youngblood, Lafferty & Sampoli in Linwood, who represents Jesse Matsinger, could not be reached.
Timothy Mullin of Zarwin, Baum, DeVito, Kaplan, Schaer Toddy in Mount Laurel, who represents Pi Kappa Phi, did not return a call.