Psychology grad student dismissed by university wins jury award
A former psychology graduate student won a $3.95 million verdict against Pacific University after it dismissed him from school following sexual assault allegations.
The Washington County jury awarded Peter Steele the amount after it “found that Pacific had not acted in a fair and reasonable way toward Steele and had intentionally caused him emotional distress.”
“The jury sided with Pacific on other counts, however, finding that the school did not violate Title IX, the landmark gender discrimination law, in its dealings with Steele and that it had not breached its contract with Steele,” The Oregonian reported.
The newspaper reported:
Peter Steele, who enrolled in Pacific’s doctorate in psychology program in 2016, was suspended by the school in 2020 after a female student told school officials that he sexually and physically assaulted her. Steele maintains that his relationship with the woman was consensual and he did not assault her.
Steele and the woman settled competing claims against each other before Steele’s case against Pacific went to trial, Steele’s lawyer Kevin Sali said. The terms of that settlement are confidential, Sali said.
“My sincere hope is that Pacific’s leadership takes a hard, searching look at what happened in this case so it can do what is necessary to ensure that it never happens again,” Sali told the media.
The university is considering an appeal, according to spokesman Blake Timm. “At every step in this situation, we followed our policies and procedures and we did not discriminate on any basis,” he told the media.
Brooklyn College Professor KC Johnson, who wrote a book about the Duke University lacrosse rape case, noted the uniqueness of the case.
“Jury ironically found against student on [Title IX count],” Professor Johnson wrote.
Steele was a doctoral student at Pacific in 2020, according to his profile on the Oregon Psychological Association website.
“Research interests” included “diversity considerations; graduate psychology teaching and training; the gamification of psychological principles and clinical interventions; clinical supervision; and psychological assessment, scale development, and validation,” according to the website.
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