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Former Liberty employee, who handled sex discrimination and harassment, sues school

FILE - Aerial view of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. (Credit: Sky13)
FILE - Aerial view of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. (Credit: Sky13)
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A former Liberty University employee who used to investigate sexual assaults and rapes on campus is now suing the university, saying her supervisors discriminated against her and a student.

"As someone who loved my position working with students at Liberty, it saddens me it came to this," Valerie Dufort said. "And yet, our motto at Title IX was 'Speak Up.'”

According to the lawsuit filed on Oct. 21, 2021, in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia Lynchburg Division, Valerie Dufort was an investigator at Liberty University’s Office of Equity and Compliance.

During her employment as an Investigator, she was subjected to a rampant culture of retaliation for her efforts to remedy discrimination faced by minority students and employees at the University.

According to Liberty University's website, its Office of Equity and Compliance is tasked with responding to reports of sex discrimination and sexual harassment, "with measures designed to eliminate such misconduct, prevent its recurrence, and remedy any adverse effects of the misconduct on individuals, members of the campus community, and University-related programs and activities."

The lawsuit claims that in or around April 2019, a male, bisexual student reported that he was physically abused by his girlfriend. After investigating, Dufort said his allegations were credible.

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The lawsuit says Dufort advocated for the student to get justice, but the complaint was dismissed because of his gender and sexual orientation.

It was clear to Ms. Dufort that this student’s complaint was treated differently by the Defendant than similar complaints brought by straight females.

Dufort said she voiced opposition to how the student’s claims were being treated differently based on his gender and sexual orientation to another investigator. The lawsuit claims that investigator then told Dufort’s supervisors. The complaint says they canceled scheduled meetings with her, stopped assigning her cases and gave her tasks that are “typically reserved for secretaries.”

"As an Investigator and as my protected right, I spoke out and defended a Complainant who claimed they were treated in an inequitable manner after they sought assistance from the LU Office of Equity and Compliance (Title IX office)," Dufort said in a statement. "Subsequently, I endured retaliatory actions by my supervisors as I continued to support this student in their investigation into this matter. "

In January and February 2020, the lawsuit claims Dufort reported her treatment to Liberty University’s Human Resources department, but no action was taken.

The lawsuit claims Dufort was “constructively discharged” on June 9, 2020. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the term "constructive discharge" is when "a worker's resignation or retirement may be found not to be voluntary because the employer has created a hostile or intolerable work environment or has applied other forms of pressure or coercion which forced the employee to quit or resign."

"I made multiple attempts to notify and rectify the retaliatory behavior with the University, to no avail," Dufort said.

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The lawsuit claims Liberty University violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Virginia Human Rights Act. Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. The Virginia Human Rights act gives similar protections.

Dufort is asking for a jury trial and for a judgment that the university violated these laws. She is asking for all damages because of Liberty University’s conduct, including damages for lost compensation and job benefits as well as for emotional distress, humiliation and embarrassment.

The lawsuit also asks that all of her former supervisors received training on discrimination and retaliation.

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A Liberty University spokesperson did not respond when asked for a comment on the allegations.

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