The parents of slain University of Utah student and track athlete Lauren McCluskey filed a $56 million civil rights lawsuit against the school on Thursday. The suit alleges that despite reforms the school pledged to make after her death, officials have not taken disciplinary action against staff, held university police or housing accountable for their slow safety response, or taken responsibility for McCluskey’s death.
“This is our last resort to affect positive change,” said Lauren’s mother, Jill McCluskey. “The university must pay a large amount so that they realize it is in their interest to believe women and act with urgency when their female students ask for help.”
McCluskey was murdered on campus in October 2018 by her ex-boyfriend Melvin Rowland. McCluskey was unaware that Rowland was a registered sex offender on parole. Despite her reports of abuse, stalking and harassment in more than 20 calls to university police, Rowland brought a gun to campus and shot McCluskey seven times.
Lauren’s parents Jill and Matt McCluskey said they would not profit from the lawsuit but that proceeds would go to expenses, damages and the Lauren McCluskey Foundation, a non-profit set up after her death. The foundation supports increasing campus safety, student athletics and animal welfare.
“Through our legal action we hope to prod the University of Utah to become a responsible institution,” Matt McCluskey said.
The family and their attorneys are arguing that the abusive behaviors against Lauren McCluskey should have been prevented on campus under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972.
“An individual, male or female, can go to college, be free from sexual harassment, and the university has a responsiblity to create a safe environment for education and learning,” said James McConkie, an attorney representing the McCluskey family.
Following McCluskey’s death and an independent review of her case, the University of Utah administration released a list of 30 actions geared towards improving campus safety and security. The reforms included increased campus officer training, ensuring policies related to guests and firearms on campus are followed, and directing officers to do mandatory background checks of suspects who have a criminal record.
In an online statement about the lawsuit, University of Utah President Ruth Watkins said the school will respond through “appropriate channels.” She goes on to say that while the family and the university characterize the school’s response in different ways, “we share the McCluskey family’s commitment to improving campus safety.”