Larios v. Chadron State College
This was a civil rights case against a state college that failed to respond appropriately to reports of student-on-student dating violence and, as a result, the victim died. Fatima Larios, a promising student-athlete on the softball team at Chadron State College in Nebraska was found dead just three months after admitting to some teammates that her boyfriend had been beating her. Concerned for Fatima’s safety and well-being, her teammates immediately reported the suspected abuse to one of their coaches, who also suspected dating violence. Although the school’s Title IX Coordinators and other school officials were informed about the suspected abuse and subsequent reports of escalating violence, the College did not take appropriate action to address the abuse. Three months after the first report, Fatima was found hanging in the closet of her boyfriend’s dorm room. The coroner concluded that Fatima had died by suicide.
Public Justice, Romanucci & Blandin, and Welsh & Welsh filed a Title IX complaint against Chadron State College in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska on January 30, 2017. (We also filed a companion state case to assert tort claims against the college on November 2, 2017.)
The college filed a motion for summary judgment that the district court denied on August 22, 2019. The court ruled that there was evidence that: the dating violence Fatima suffered was gender-based (as required under Title IX); the college had actual knowledge that Fatima had been subjected to dating violence; and the college acted with deliberate indifference to the reported harassment. The court further ruled that the foreseeability of Fatima suicide as a response to dating violence could not be resolved as a matter of law, and a jury would have to decide whether the college could have prevented her suicide by taking more meaningful action to stop the dating violence.
The case was set to begin trial in February 2020. The parties reached a settlement, in principle, during a settlement conference in mid‐January 2020, and the agreement was finalized in mid‐April. The comprehensive settlement will improve student safety, build a lasting campus legacy for Fatima, and help Fatima’s family get some closure. As part of the settlement, the college also paid Fatima’s family $900,000 and reimbursed them for some expenses. The parties also wrote a joint opinion piece, published in The Chadron Record, to announce a lasting campus legacy for Fatima and to educate the public on the symptoms and consequences of dating violence.
Pursuant to the 2020 settlement, Chadron has agreed to:
- Provide annual suicide prevention training to its staff, faculty, and students for at least the next 10 years;
- Consult with an outside expert for the next three school years regarding its Title IX policies, procedures, and practices;
- Give a memorial scholarship in Fatima’s name (The Fatima Larios Spirit Scholarship) on an annual basis, for at least the next 10 years, to a member of Chadron State College’s women’s softball team; and
- Place a memorial honoring Fatima’s life and legacy on campus for at least the next 10 years.
To better protect students, the college has already made some changes, including:
- Hiring a full‐time Title IX Director who receives ongoing training from the Association of Title IX Administrators; and
- Changing its policies to require interdepartmental communications among its Title IX office, athletics department, and housing administrators.
- Adele Kimmel
Martin Gould and Tony Romanucci of Romanucci & Blandin, LLC
Christopher Welsh of Welsh & Welsh, P.C., L.L.O.