Former University of Montana dean of students sued

Former dean alleged defamation, “reckless disregard” in publishing false statements

By: - November 29, 2021 5:58 pm

Gavel in front of legal person writing. (Provided by Ekaterina Bolovtsova via Pexels.com for the Daily Montanan)

A former University of Montana dean of students is being accused of creating a hostile educational environment in violation of Title IX — by a plaintiff who is represented by a lawyer who also has represented Andrew Anglin of the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer and Alex Jones of Infowars.

In the lawsuit filed this month in U.S. District Court in Arizona, plaintiff Audrey Davis accuses Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University officials, including Rhondie Voorhees, former UM dean of students, of failing to properly investigate a Title IX complaint or to protect Davis, a student, with her “lust to punish Davis for speaking out.” Davis is asking for at least $75,000.

“Defendants have tried to bully, intimidate and sue Davis into silence,” the complaint said. “They have failed, and now they will face consequences for their conduct.”

However, five months earlier, Voorhees herself sued Davis for publishing “false and defamatory statements” in a petition that called on the dean to resign. In that May 2021 complaint, Voorhees notes she was not yet employed as dean of students at Embry when she believes Davis filed her Title IX complaint, and she does not supervise Title IX functions, as she said to Davis in a meeting.

“While (Voorhees) attempted to be empathetic to (Davis’) concerns, (Voorhees) made it very clear to (Davis) during the meeting that (Voorhees) is not, and has never been, involved with overseeing or supervising any Title IX issues at ERAU (the university),” reads the complaint filed by Voorhees against Davis and “John Doe Davis, husband and wife.”

The complaint notes Davis eventually took down the petition, but not before acting with “reckless disregard” in knowingly spreading false information and damaging Voorhees: “Given the manner in which the false statements were published, it is evident that the false statements have been published to third parties with malice, spite, or ill will and with the intent of causing harm to the reputation, employment and economic interests of Plaintiff.”

This month, Voorhees filed a motion to dismiss her complaint. The notice of dismissal notes Davis has not filed a response or a motion for summary judgement, and it said Voorhees reserves the right to refile all the claims. In the lawsuit, she had asked the court to stop the defendant from publishing false statements and also for damages.

In a separate challenge in Montana, Voorhees is one of four female plaintiffs who filed a gender discrimination complaint against the Missoula flagship alleging a “good ol’ boys club” and hostile work environment. UM has denied the claims as “false and inflammatory” and has pledged to fight them in court. The case is pending in U.S. District Court in Missoula.

The recent challenge against Voorhees stems from a sexual assault allegation. In her complaint, Davis alleges one individual defendant sexually assaulted her, and the “touching was unwanted and was made in a sexual manner.” The complaint notes police determined there was not enough evidence to prosecute the defendant.

In the lawsuit, Davis also alleges Voorhees, the Board of Trustees, and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University supported a “hostile and inaccessible educational environment,” failed to provide reasonable accommodations such as putting her alleged assaulter in another class, and threatened her education if she raised concerns about the Title IX investigation.

Title IX of the the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination based on sex in schools or educational programs that receive federal funding.

Davis also alleged Voorhees filed a false affidavit that said Davis was not in military service when Davis was in the ROTC. Additionally, she described Voorhees’ earlier lawsuit against her as “frivolous.”

“Dean Voorhees not only brushed away Ms. Davis’ concerns, but she doubled down on the deliberate indifference and victim blaming,” the lawsuit said.

The lawyer representing Davis is Marc Randazza, a First Amendment attorney based in Las Vegas. Randazza recently won a case on behalf of a conservative Roman Catholic media outlet that wanted to hold a rally with former President Donald Trump strategist Steve Bannon, recently indicted for contempt of Congress in the Jan. 6 Capitol breach investigation, according to the Associated Press. The AP said Baltimore city officials argued the event by St. Michael’s Media posed a public safety threat, but the defendants said the city was violating their First Amendment right to free speech.

In a Montana case, Randazza represented Anglin, although the lawyer announced he would withdraw after the publisher of the extremist antisemitic website defied a court order, the AP reported. In 2019, Anglin was ordered to pay $14 million in compensatory and punitive damages after he was sued for using his website to launch a “troll storm” against a Whitefish realtor.

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. In Montana since 1998, she loves hiking in Glacier National Park, wandering the grounds of the Archie Bray and sitting on her front porch with friends. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana. She worked there from 2006 to 2020. As a Missoulian reporter, she was named a co-fellow by the Education Writers Association to report on a series about economic mobility; grantee of the Society of Environmental Journalists for a project on conservation from the U.S. to Africa; and Kiplinger Fellow in Digital Media and Public Affairs Journalism. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune and Missoula Independent, and she earned her master’s in journalism from the University of Montana. She lives in Missoula with her husband, Brock, who is also her favorite chef, and her pup, Henry, who is her favorite adventure companion. She believes she deserves to wear the T-shirt with this saying: “World’s most mediocre runner.”

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