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New retaliation probe announced

Despite a pre-emptive external review completed by the University weeks ago, a third federal investigation regarding UNC’s handling of sexual assault cases now looms.

In a letter to the University dated June 24, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights announced it would open a probe investigating whether the University retaliated against Landen Gambill, the student who faced an Honor Court charge in February that claimed she created a hostile environment for her ex-boyfriend, who she accused of raping her.

UNC hired Rutgers professor Barbara Lee to investigate the claims in May. Lee found no evidence of retaliation, but then-Chancellor Holden Thorp dismissed Gambill’s Honor Court charge and suspended the provision it fell under.

Still, in the letter, the civil rights office acknowledged the University’s recent steps but said it was opening the investigation to determine whether UNC’s resolution of the claims met its own regulatory standards.

The probe was prompted by a complaint Gambill filed March 25 stating the University retaliated against her on two occasions — when it assigned her ex-boyfriend to a residence hall near her own, and when it allowed the Honor Court charge to be brought against her.

The investigation will examine both claims of retaliation.

Chancellor Carol Folt was not available for comment, but University spokeswoman Karen Moon said in an email that the University is reviewing the matter and will cooperate fully with the investigation.

According to the Office of Civil Rights’ website, the maximum punishment the University could face if found guilty would be a loss of federal funding from the Department of Education.

But in most cases, the office will ask the university to voluntarily commit to fixing the noncompliance and prevent it moving forward.

Henry Clay Turner, the attorney who has been representing Gambill, said his client will be participating in the federal investigation, though she declined to take part in Lee’s review last month.

Gambill began publicly asking for money to cover her lawyer fees when the investigation was announced.

Her fundraising website lists her current goal at $30,000.

She said she was looking forward to this latest federal investigation — now the third of its kind ongoing at UNC — and she was happy the Office of Civil Rights was investigating her complaint.

“When the University hired (Lee) to do the investigation, there’s obviously an incentive there not to find anything that condemns the University, because they’re the ones footing the bill,” she said.

Jim Bradshaw, a spokesman with the Department of Education, said the office aims to wrap up investigations within six months.

Two other federal investigations regarding sexual assault still linger. One stems from the Office of Civil Rights and involves UNC’s handling of sexual assault procedures, while another, from the Clery Act Compliance Division, is assessing whether UNC complied with the Clery Act in its reporting of sexual assault cases.

The Clery Act requires federally funded universities to report crime statistics happening on or near campus, and former Assistant Dean of Students Melinda Manning claimed that the University underreported sexual assault cases.

The earlier investigations were both prompted by complaints filed by Gambill, Manning and three other women in January.

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