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Ithaca College student files sexual abuse, harassment, Title IX lawsuit against IC and former Park School associate dean

The+lawsuit+was+filed+against+Ithaca+College+and+Bryan+Roberts%2C+former+associate+dean+of+the+Roy.+H+Park+School+of+Communications.+
File Photo / The Ithacan
The lawsuit was filed against Ithaca College and Bryan Roberts, former associate dean of the Roy. H Park School of Communications.

An Ithaca College student filed a civil lawsuit against the college and a former associate dean of the Roy H. Park School of Communications in November 2023. The student alleged that he was sexually abused and harassed by four then-employees of the college, including the former associate dean.

The student asked the court to be identified as John Doe for purposes of the case and, as of publication, both defendants have agreed to the request and the court has not yet ruled on the motion. Doe filed the lawsuit to the Supreme Court of the State of New York Tompkins County under the Adult Survivors Act and Title IX. According to the lawsuit, the student was “in an unwelcome, unsafe, threatening, and/or nonconsensual sexual relationship” from Fall 2021 to Spring 2023 with Bryan Roberts, former associate dean of the Park School of Communications. 

Erin Peake, Doe’s lawyer, declined to comment about the lawsuit, citing protection of anonymity for Doe. 

“I have spoken with my attorneys and we have filed a motion to have the complaint completely dismissed– a large part of the case already has been,” Roberts said via email in a comment to The Ithacan.

Roberts’ lawyer, Peter Glennon, could not be reached after multiple attempts to contact him for comment about the lawsuit or about Roberts’ comment. 

As of Jan. 19, 3:20 p.m., there have been no motions filed to dismiss the case, according to court records. 

The complaint alleges that “Defendants had both actual and constructive notice of the abuse, which took place in their school, in that amongst other things, Bryan Roberts was publicly using Grindr to connect with Ithaca College students as young as 19-years-old, on campus and his sexual abuse of students was common knowledge amongst students, staff and other leadership at Ithaca College. Nonetheless, Defendants did nothing to intervene and stop and/or prevent the assault and abuse.”

According to the case, Roberts reached out to Doe on Grindr in December 2021. 

“In approximately December 2021, Dean Roberts reached out to the plaintiff on Grindr,” the complaint states. “Grindr is a location-based dating app, in which users set preferences by both distance and age. Doe would only have been visible to Roberts on Grindr if Roberts had intentionally set his online dating preferences to include 19-year-olds on or near the Ithaca College campus.”

The complaint alleges that Roberts and Doe had nonconsensual sexual encounters roughly seven to nine times from Fall 2021 to early Spring 2023. 

Emily Rockett — vice president, general counsel and secretary to the board of trustees at the college — said via email that the college will publicly comment on the lawsuit later via court. The Defendants have until Jan. 22 to respond to the complaints. 

“The College generally does not comment on pending litigation matters, nor confidential personnel matters,” Rockett said via email. “We believe that the appropriate place to respond to the allegations made in this complaint is through the court system, and the College will do so at the appropriate time.”

Rockett said the college’s Title IX office and Office of Human Resources investigate reports of sexual harassment and violations of the college’s intimate relationship policy. 

“Reports of any suspected misconduct can be made directly to the Title IX Office, to the Office of Human Resources, or the Office of Public Safety,” Rockett said via email. “Those reports can be made in person, electronically, or through the College’s Bias Impact Reporting process.” 

Rockett said the college’s Sexual Harassment and Assault Response & Education website provides information on sexual violence awareness. 

In the case, Doe claims to have reported to both Jack Bryant, associate professor and degree program director of Media Arts, Sciences and Studies, and Andrew Lamendola, administrative coordinator of the Center for Career Exploration and Development, that he “was in an unwelcome, unsafe, threatening, and/or nonconsensual sexual relationship” with Roberts.

According to the complaint, Bryant connected with Doe on Grindr in January 2022. 

“At the beginning of the Spring semester, in January 2022, Jack Bryant, Associate Professor and Degree Program Director of Writing for Film, TV, and Emerging Media, connected with Plaintiff on Grindr,” the case states.

According to the case, Doe reported his nonconsensual sexual relationship with Roberts to Bryant during this conversation. The complaint states that “Bryant did not report this allegation to Ithaca College, nor did he ask [Doe] if he needed help; rather, he ignored and dismissed [Doe’s] complaints.”

Bryant declined to comment. 

The complaint alleges that in Spring 2023, Doe also reported the same concerns about the relationship with Roberts to Lamendola. 

“In Spring 2023, Plaintiff again reported his experiences to an Ithaca College staff member, this time he reported to Andrew Lamendola, Administrative Coordinator of the Center for Career Exploration and Development that he was in an unwelcome, unsafe, threatening, and/or nonconsensual sexual relationship with Dean Bryan Roberts,” the case states.

Lamendola declined to comment.

The student alleges in the case that he also experienced “harmful, unwanted, unwelcome, nonconsensual and/or hostile sexual advances” by Marc Greene, former director of senior student teacher placements in the Department of Music Education, in Fall 2022; Casey Stebbins, former lead cashier of dining services, in Fall 2022; and Ron Trunzo, former associate director for residential life and student conduct and community standards, in Spring 2023.

Despite multiple attempts, Trunzo, Greene and Stebbins could not be reached for comment. 

The complaint alleges that in May 2023, the college’s Title IX office received a complaint from another student that made the office aware of Doe’s nonconsensual relationship with Roberts. According to the complaint, Doe decided to officially report Roberts and an investigation commenced during summer 2023. 

The complaint alleges that following the Title IX investigation, Roberts was found in violation of the college’s policy on sexual harassment (Policy 2.6) and its policy on intimate relationships (Policy 2.46), which states that “Given the inherent inequity that exists in the relationships between employees and students, as well as the potential for the appearance of exploitation and/or favoritism, no employee shall have an intimate relationship with a student. In addition, no employee shall engage in any action objectively intended to solicit an intimate relationship with a student.”

Roberts left the college in August 2023 and is listed as a visiting faculty member and director of the Championship Labs at the University of Connecticut. According to the complaint, he was a resident of the City of Ithaca at the time of the case and is currently a resident of the state of Connecticut. 

The lawsuit also alleges that Stebbins, Greene, Bryant and Trunzo were subject to human resources investigations. Rockett declined to comment about allegations involving human resource investigations. 

The complaint alleges that in August 2023, Stebbins was found in violation of both Policy 2.6 and Policy 2.46, but the college did not terminate Stebbins. Stebbins is currently not listed in the college’s staff and faculty directory. In the college’s Jan. 22 motion that they filed to dismiss claims in the complaint, they state that Stebbins is still employed at the college. 

According to the case, in October 2023, Greene was terminated from his position for violating Policy 2.46 and Trunzo resigned from his position in November 2023 after being found in violation of Policy 2.46.

Doe filed a Summons and Complaint in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Tompkins County in November 2023.

On Dec. 18, 2023, Defendants removed the case from state court to the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York. According to the Notice of Removal document, the case “involves questions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States,” including the claims that the college violated Title IX. 

The Initial Conference is set for Jan. 31. 

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Syd Pierre, Editor In Chief
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  • D

    Drew KelloggJan 21, 2024 at 9:01 pm

    Sexual assault is no joke, but there are so many false statements and inconsistencies in this article (within the first four paragraphs!) that are intentionally misleading and inaccurate. It’s disappointing as an alum of Ithaca College to see these accusations, but equally disappointing to see the quality of the Ithacan so drastically devolve since its inception. There may be truths in this story, but the problems in writing are enough to cause doubt in the allegations, which makes the victim look like they’re lying. We don’t know yet, but there is a deep lack of journalistic integrity in this that makes this look either highly speculative or like you didn’t do your research. Either way, this is extremely disappointing. Word choice matters, specificity in language is absolutely essential in journalism. As a former Journalism major, I’m sad to see so many examples of gross misconduct, not just by staff, but by this entire organization.

    Reply
    • J

      Jacob McIntoshJan 25, 2024 at 4:46 am

      No matter the presentation… this is far more damning to Ithaca College than any shoddy journalism. IC students should abandon this sinking ship while it’s still accredited lol

      Reply