Appalachian School of Law has fired back at a former visiting professor suing the school, arguing in a bid to dismiss that a student who the professor claims was sexually harassing her was simply “obnoxious.”
In its motion to dismiss the federal lawsuit filed July 7, the law school argued that Hillary Lynne Burgess’ claims are full of speculation and allegations of sexual harassment, breach of contract, and retaliation, but lacking in actual evidence of any such violations. Her complaint is “often repetitive and contradictory,” and her claims come down to “naked assumptions,” reads the motion to dismiss, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia.
“These allegations are simply insufficient to sustain plaintiff’s claims and the complaint should be dismissed with prejudice,” it says.
Burgess sued the law school and three administrators in May, alleging a myriad of claims stemming from her stint as a visiting assistant professor during the 2015-16 academic year. She alleged she was harassed for months by a male student with a penchant for guns, eventually moving her family away from the town of Grundy, Virginia—where Appalachian is located—and teaching her courses remotely in order to avoid him.
Appalachian’s motion counters: “At best, these allegations suggest an obnoxious law student in Buchanan County, Virginia, with a professed interest in guns. While plaintiff may have found Mr. Doe personally offensive, this conduct does not rise to the level of being objectively severe and pervasive to support plaintiff’s claim of hostile work environment sexual harassment.”
Burgess’ attorney, Thomas Strelka of the Roanoke, Virginia, firm Strelka Law Office, said Tuesday that his client will oppose the motion to dismiss.
“We look forward to filing responses and then arguing the matter in court,” Strelka said.
Vijay Mago, an attorney with Richmond, Virginia, firm O’Hagan Meyer who is representing the law school, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
Burgess’ lawsuit further alleges that Appalachian violated Title IX procedures in its investigation of the harassment of her and other staff and students at the school, retaliated against her for raising the alarm over the perpetrator, and eventually let him off the hook without punishment.
Additionally, she claims the school sexually discriminated against her by requiring her to assume extra administrative work related to the school’s American Bar Association reaccreditation bid that male colleagues were exempt from, then failed to pay her the agreed-to additional compensation.
Appalachian counters that Burgess failed to offer any evidence that she was treated differently than male colleagues, in part because she compared herself, as a visiting assistant professor, to “permanent, tenured male faculty.”
The school also refutes Burgess’ claim that it mishandled the Title IX investigation into her alleged harassment. The male student in question, identified only as John Doe in court papers, was allegedly aggressive and disruptive in her class. Burgess claimed that he targeted her because she is a woman, and that she became increasingly concerned about her safety after Doe repeatedly said he owned firearms. She claims the school delayed investigating her harassment claims for months and never followed through on a promise to post a security guard outside her classroom.
The school also claims the Burgess does not meet the legal standard for either intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, despite her claim that she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and suffered anxiety, panic attacks, hair loss, insomnia and numerous other physical ailments throughout the school year.
Contact Karen Sloan at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @KarenSloanNLJ