Former UNL Student Files Title IX Lawsuit

March 23, 2021, 4:59 p.m. ·

The international student left University of Nebraska-Lincoln after three years of harassment and restarted her Ph.D. in another institution. (Photo by Brandon McDermott)

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A former University of Nebraska-Lincoln student is suing the school because she had problems while reporting her Title IX complaint. The international student alleges her adviser kissed her, harassed her, and retaliated against her.

The student’s lawyer, Elizabeth Abdnour, said she just started her Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at UNL in 2014 when her adviser had her alone and kissed her on the mouth.

"And it completely shocked her and appalled her and made her completely question whether she was going to be able to effectively work with this person," Abdnour said.

The student tried to make it clear to him she wasn’t interested.

The attorney said her client continued to experience strange behavior: receiving kissy emojis, unwanted physical contact and linking a movie about a woman cheating on her husband and leaving him for another man. The former student is married.

UNL’s Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance, charged with investigating reports of sexual misconduct on campus, investigated and removed the professor as her adviser.

Abdnour, a former Title IX investigator at Michigan State University, said in her opinion, the report didn’t sufficiently address the evidence.

"When you get to the portion where they're making their findings, these couple of sentences right here, 'Third, based on the information regarding respondent kicking, or nudging you when you've got something wrong in your research or work, the greater weight of the evidence shows respondent nudged you in a playful manner rather than forcefully kicked you,' That makes her feel reading it, like, she didn't do a good enough job of convincing them that this inappropriate conduct was actually inappropriate," Abdnour said.

In a statement, the office said, “The health and safety of all of our students is of the utmost importance to us. We have a strong Title IX process and are confident in it. Every case is difficult and investigated based on the information made available. We cannot comment on the specifics of any Title IX investigation or on pending litigation.”

Abdnour said her client stayed in UNL for three years.

"Despite her reporting, and there being an investigation that took place, she still had continued to experience, unwelcome contacts from him, as well as some additional retaliation, and that she had eventually left the University of Nebraska and completely restarted a Ph.D. program at another institution," Abdnour said.

The retaliation described was removing the student as first author on a paper she was working on with him, a requirement in her program. The attorney said her client lost three years of income and suffered significant trauma.

"She doesn't want anyone to have to go through what she went through. She wants women to be able to obtain their education without being derailed by sexual harassment and retaliation," Adbnour said. "So that's one of her goals, she wants to prompt some significant change at the University of Nebraska."

The first step was filing the lawsuit and Abdnour hopes as the process continues, they can work together with UNL to reach a resolution.