Law Prof Suffered PTSD From Student Harassment, Lawsuit Claims

By William Vogeler, Esq. on May 12, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Like a bad year for wine, 2015 was not a good year for Appalachian School of Law.

Enrollment dropped to 32 first-year students that year. It was bad enough for a law school with barely 100 students, but it was even worse because of one student.

The student allegedly raped a staff member, bullied a student who committed suicide, and harassed a professor so severely that she quit. These problems, now the subject of a federal lawsuit, have not gotten better with age.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Hillary Lynne Burgess, a former visiting professor at the law school, says the administrators' investigation of the matter was "completely, and inexcusably mismanaged." She says the school violated Title IX by failing to protect her from the harassment and retaliated against her for complaining, causing her anxiety, panic attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The complaint, filed this week, names the law school, administrators and "John Doe"-- the alleged harasser. Burgess says that he became "increasingly aggressive and disruptive" in her class in September 2015.

He talked over her and made defiant and unprofessional comments about her in front of other students, she claims. One time, she told him to leave class and he responded with a threat.

"No woman will ever tell me when I can and can't talk," he said, according to the suit. "I will ruin her."

"I Will Ruin Her"

In the lawsuit, Burgess says that Doe also harassed students. She told administrators that she saw him bully one student and that he had groped and sexually battered others.

The school investigated and held an internal hearing in May 2016, and concluded that Doe had not violated the professor's rights but was liable for his conduct towards students. He was ordered to attend three hours of sexual misconduct training.

The decision was reversed later, but Burgess said the law school continued to violate her rights. She had asked the school to keep her address confidential -- because Doe apparently owned guns and she was afraid of him -- but the school disclosed that information and Doe came to her house. Burgess and her family then fled the area, and she has not returned to work.

The lawsuit has reopened old wounds at the law school, even before 2015. According to reports, a former student shot and killed a dean, a professor and a student at the law school in 2002.

Related Resources:

Copied to clipboard