Yale is already under fire for allegedly allowing a "hostile sexual environment" to exist on campus, and the charges just got far more serious. Two years after graduate student Annie Le was murdered in a Yale lab, her parents have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the university, saying it's failed to protect women on campus for years, and didn't do enough to ensure Le's safety.
Five days after she disappeared, 24-year-old Le was found strangled and stuffed into the wall of a Yale lab building on what would have been her wedding day. She was studying for her doctorate in pharmacology and had been researching enzymes that could help treat cancer, diabetes, and muscular dystrophy. Le was last seen in the Yale Animal Research Center, where she was conducting experiments on mice. Raymond Clark III worked as an animal research technician in the building, and last spring he pleaded guilty to murdering Le and hiding her body. Prosecutors say he also tried to sexually assault her, but on that charge Clark entered his plea under the Alford doctrine, which lets a defendant concede that prosecutors have enough information to convict without admitting guilt. Clark was sentenced to 44 years in prison for Le's murder.
In March, the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights announced it was investigating Yale "for its failure to eliminate a hostile sexual environment on campus, in violation of Title IX." The investigation was a response to a complaint filed by 16 Yale students and alumni that cited several incidents of fraternities demeaning women, as well as private cases of sexual harassment and assault that the women say weren't investigated properly. According to the Associated Press, the Le family points to the investigation as evidence that the university didn't do enough to prevent sexual assaults, saying, "Yale's persistent tolerance of sexual harassment and sexual assaults on campus caused students to file (the) complaint against Yale University."
The Hartford Courant reports that the suit also says that Yale didn't respond quickly enough once Le was reported missing, and claims the school should have known Clark was a threat based on "previously demonstrated aggressive behavior and a violent propensity towards women." The document doesn't explain what the school knew about Clark before the attack, but the family's attorneys say:
"Based on Yale's negligence in, among other things, hiring, retaining and supervising Clark, and providing a safe and secure environment for Annie Le, Ms. Le endured a brutal physical and sexual attack, resulting in significant conscious suffering before her death, for which Yale is liable."
Yale officials have already denied the claims made in the Title IX suit, and said in a statement yesterday:
"Yale had no information indicating that Raymond Clark was capable of committing this terrible crime, and no reasonable security measures could have prevented his unforeseeable act. Annie Le's murder shocked and deeply saddened the entire Yale community. As a community we united to support and comfort her family and loved ones, and create a lasting memorial to her life. This lawsuit serves neither justice nor Annie's memory, and the University will defend against it as appropriate."
The lawsuit says the Le family is seeking an unspecified amount of money greater than $15,000, but it could cost Yale far more. The damages could come to millions of dollars, and the case may also solidify the idea that the school has a serious problem with sexism.