December 25, 1997
Court to Let Rape Lawsuit Go Forward
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ICHMOND -- A woman who said she was raped by two Virginia Tech football players in 1994 may pursue a lawsuit against the men and the university under the Federal Violence Against Women Act.
A panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit voted 2 to 1 on Tuesday to uphold the 1994 law, which allows victims of sex-based crimes to sue their attackers in Federal court.
The appeals court also revived the complaint by the woman, Christy Brzonkala, that the university had violated the Federal sex discrimination law by coddling the athletes and failing to help her sufficiently.
Last year, Judge Jackson Kiser of Federal District Court in Roanoke, Va., threw out Ms. Brzonkala's lawsuit, ruling that Congress had exceeded its authority in passing the civil rights provision of the law.
"What this means for us is a vindication of sorts," said Ms. Brzonkala's lawyer, Eileen Wagner. "She ought to have her day in court."
Ms. Brzonkala, who has asked that her name be used in articles about the case, said she was "tearful" after hearing about the decision and that she looked forward to her day in court "not just for me but for everybody, for all women."
Virginia Tech's lawyer, Kay Heidreder, and a spokesman for the university in Blacksburg did not return telephone calls.
Julie Goldscheid, a lawyer with the Legal Defense and Education Fund of the National Organization for Women, said this was the first Federal appeals court ruling on the constitutionality of the act. Five lower courts have upheld the law.
Ms. Goldscheid argued before the appeals court on Ms. Brzonkala's behalf that Congress had passed the law under its authority to protect commerce. The appeals court agreed with her.
The Virginia Attorney General, Richard Cullen, said he might ask the full appeals court to review the decision.
Ms. Brzonkala has accused James Crawford and Antonio Morrison of raping her in her dormitory in 1994, soon after the law was enacted. She did not report the incident for several months, and no criminal charges were filed. Her suit seeks unspecified damages from Mr. Morrison, Mr. Crawford and Virginia Tech.
Michael McDonald, president of the Center for Individual Rights, a Washington group that represents Mr. Morrison, said, "The fact that Ms. Brzonkala can keep these bogus claims alive through the Federal Violence Against Women Act demonstrates how pernicious it is to allow Congress to create quasi-criminal statutes for favored constituencies."
Virginia Tech's disciplinary board cleared Mr. Crawford.
The university cited Mr. Morrison for violating its "abusive conduct" policy and suspended him.