Lawsuit asserts that Hillsdale College violated Title IX and state law by not properly investigating several reports of sexual assault on its campus and not adhering to its own inadequate sexual misconduct policy
HILLSDALE, MI–Two women filed a class action lawsuit against Hillsdale College accusing it of failing to adequately investigate their reports of sexual assault and violating their rights under Title IX and Michigan state law. The complaint also alleges that Hillsdale College subjected the survivors to a series of distressing and damaging experiences after they reported incidents of sexual assault on campus.
The plaintiffs, Grace Chen and Danielle Villarreal, have come forward to demand justice and accountability from the College. Filed in the Western District of Michigan, the complaint highlights several disturbing and inadequate aspects of the college’s response to sexual assault allegations on its campus. Specifically, Hillsdale College’s existing “sexual misconduct policy” is criticized for its lack of emphasis on consent, excessive discretion afforded to college Deans in investigations and punishments, and a failure to guarantee confidentiality for reporting students.
In 2021, both women allege they were sexually assaulted by fellow students when enrolled at Hillsdale College. However, when both women reported these incidents to Hillsdale College officials, the College did not provide any support services or safety accommodations, nor did it furnish any formal, written documentation of its investigation—despite numerous requests from the women and their families. Furthermore, Hillsdale College did not take any meaningful disciplinary action against the assailants, whom both women would see regularly on campus and at school events.
“This class action isn’t solely about Hillsdale College mishandling my report of sexual assault on campus; it’s also about the school’s overall approach to addressing such reports from any student,” said Grace Chen, a junior at Hillsdale College. “My goal in filing this complaint is to prevent others attending Hillsdale from enduring the same painful experience I did.”
“I want to emphasize that our collective complaint goes beyond our individual experiences. It sheds light on a systemic issue at Hillsdale College concerning how sexual assault reports are handled,” said Danielle Villarreal, who left Hillsdale College and is now a junior at Vanderbilt University. “By filing this case, we aim to bring about meaningful change that ensures the safety and well-being of all students at the College.”
Hillsdale College, founded in 1844 and in Hillsdale, Michigan, describes itself as a “nonsectarian Christian institution” that “maintains ‘by precept and example’ the immemorial teachings and practices of the Christian faith.” All dormitories are sex-segregated and the Regulations for Proper Student Contact speak in terms of the school’s “high moral standards.” Hillsdale College has claimed that it is not bound by Title IX due to its non-acceptance of federal educational funds—a position challenged by the survivors. They argue that the college’s nonprofit status and accompanying tax exemption, among other benefits, require the school to follow Title IX.
“Even beyond the requirements of Title IX, Hillsdale College’s response to allegations of sexual assault on its campus is not just inadequate; it is deeply concerning and re-traumatizing for survivors,” said Annika K. Martin, who is representing the survivors, and is a partner at Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein and head of the firm’s Survivor Advocacy Practice Group. “We believe the College must adhere to federal and state law to better protect its student body, and we are immensely proud to represent these two brave women in their quest for justice and accountability.” Martin has previously litigated sexual assault cases on behalf of survivors against institutions such as the University of Michigan and the University of Southern California.
Read the full article about the case in USA today.
Learn more about the Hillsdale College survivors lawsuit.
About Annika K. Martin
A partner in Lieff Cabraser’s New York office, Annika K. Martin served as co-lead counsel for plaintiff abuse victims in the USC student sexual abuse lawsuit that led to a $215 million settlement with USC and Dr. Tyndall and significant institutional changes. She is currently representing men who were sexually abused as students by University of Michigan physician Robert Anderson.
Annika also represents plaintiffs in class action and mass tort litigation concerning consumer fraud, environmental issues, and products liability. She served as co-lead counsel for plaintiffs in the successful national consumer fraud class action brought against General Motors Company over allegedly defective air conditioning systems, and has a similar role in the more recent similar product defect case against Mercedes over their allegedly defective vehicle HVAC systems.
Annika represented individuals, property owners, and business owners across the Gulf Coast in class action litigation against BP, Transocean, Halliburton, and other companies responsible for the 2010 blowout on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig which resulted in the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Annika was deeply involved in negotiating, implementing, and gaining court approval for the economic and medical class action settlements with BP that are compensating hundreds of thousands of victims of the tragedy.
Annika has also represented plaintiffs with physical and economic injuries arising from GM vehicles with defective ignition switches, and patients nationwide suffering from the widespread outbreak of meningitis and other serious maladies caused by contaminated medication. Annika is the current co-chair of AAJ’s Class Action Litigation Group.