A student who claims she was sexually assaulted by a member of the Niagara University men's swim team is joining a lawsuit against the school.
The woman, now a sophomore at Niagara, said the attack took place in the fall of last year when she was a 17-year-old freshman.
Identified in court papers as "Jane Doe-2," the woman said she reported the assault and a subsequent threatening phone call from her attacker to the university but was encouraged not to file a formal complaint.
Her allegations are part of a civil suit previously filed by a member of the Niagara women's swim team and two of her former teammates. They claim they and others were sexually harassed by members of the men's swim team. The new accusation is the first to allege assault.
"In this day and age, it’s unbelievable a Catholic University would think it’s acceptable to sweep incidents of sexual harassment under the rug,” Cheryl Meyers Buth, a lawyer for the women, said in a statement Thursday.
In the new complaint, Jane Doe-2 said she reported the sexual assault to the school's Title IX coordinator and was told it would be "difficult on her" if she filed a formal complaint.
The coordinator also told her that because no weapons, no threats and no additional violence were involved, he did not have to open an investigation, according to court papers.
He also convinced her that a "mutual" no-contact order would be a better option, but the no-contact order drafted by Dean of Students Jason A. Jakubowski failed to acknowledge she was the victim of a sexual assault and that the threatening phone call had left her in fear for her personal safety, the complaint states.
“When schools fail to meet their obligations under Title IX, it creates an atmosphere that can have potentially devastating effects,” Brian M. Melber, another lawyer for the women, said Thursday.
In the months following the assault, according to the suit, the male swimmer and others continued trying to intimidate the victim by being around her while she was on campus.
The woman's attorneys claim Niagara also knew about prior "law enforcement contact" with the male swimmer and nevertheless allowed him to stay on the team.
In a statement Thursday, the university stopped short of commenting on the new allegations but noted that "allegations in legal pleadings are allegations, not necessarily facts."
"The university has zero tolerance for the type of misconduct alleged and does not discourage any student from reporting or from pursuing an internal or external complaint and investigation," said Thomas J. Burns, an associate vice president at Niagara.
Burns said the university has a comprehensive program for receiving and addressing student complaints or concerns and can offer a wide range of student support services to protect students.
By adding Jane Doe-2, the suit against Niagara now numbers four plaintiffs. They are Nastassja Posso, a senior member of the swim team; Jaime Rolf, a senior who quit the team and gave up her scholarship; and Jane Doe-1, an unidentified woman who competed as a diver for four years before graduating last year.
The new complaint, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Buffalo, claims all four women sought treatment for depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.
The harassment, according to the female swimmers, included male swimmers ranking them by physical appearance, calling them vulgar names and ridiculing their weight.
The female swimmers also accused Ben Nigro, who coached both the men's and women's teams, of failing to intervene on their behalf when they complained about the harassment.
"Boys will be boys," he said, according to the lawsuit.
Nigro, 47, was in his 14th year at Niagara when he resigned earlier this month. He had previously coached at New Hampshire, Vermont and North Carolina-Wilmington, his alma mater.
“Although we were glad to see the coach is no longer at Niagara, it’s a shame it took a lawsuit for the university to address a problem that’s apparently been ongoing for years,” said Laurie A. Baker, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.
The civil lawsuit against Niagara also claims the university violated federal law and NCAA rules by treating the women's team unequally in terms of coaching and equipment. By using the same head coach, the university created a structure that made the women's team "an appendage of the men's swim team" and "permitted, fostered and created a hostile environment."