A former tennis player at the University of Arkansas Fayetteville filed a lawsuit August 22 alleging the university mishandled a Title IX investigation and subsequent expulsion of a fellow student-athlete and one-time Olympian whom she says sexually assaulted her on campus in 2014.
Elizabeth Fryberger, who filed the lawsuit in Arkansas under her real name, says that on October 20, 2014, Raymond Higgs removed her pants and underwear while drunk and attempted to vaginally rape her before forcing her to perform oral sex on the floor of her dorm room. Fryberger and Higgs had met in August 2014 and had consensual sex once prior to the assault, the lawsuit says.
Higgs is a field athlete who represented the Bahamas in the 2012 Olympics. The University of Arkansas is known for its track and field program; Omar McLeod, 2016 Olympic gold medalist in the 110 m hurdles, competed for Arkansas before going professional.
The lawsuit states that “prior to October, 2014 Higgs was arrested three prior times by the University of Arkansas Police Department for charges of aggravated assault, assault in the third degree against a female, and terroristic threatening. Two of these arrests were on the same day. Upon information, Higgs was also previously served with an order of protection against a female.”
(A request for records of these incidents could not be immediately obtained by Deadspin, as the state of Arkansas allows only residents of the state to file public records requests. UAPD Captain Gary Crain said Tuesday he had a request in to the university to send copies of those reports to Deadspin, and this post will be updated if they are received. )
Fryberger was a member of the Arkansas tennis team, and told the team trainer about the assault the next day. She also says she texted Higgs about the assault, and he replied that he “didn’t have a gun to [her] head making [her] do shit.” Fryberger met with an interim Title IX coordinator and visited a hospital the day after the assault; the hospital contacted university police, who interviewed Fryberger and Higgs separately.
Higgs was not given a no-contact order by the university until November 6. (The lawsuit says that at the time of the alleged assault, the student handbook required the university to determine whether or not to proceed with an investigation within seven days of the report; a current version of the student handbook gives no such timeline.)
Fryberger says she was uncomfortable living in the dorm room where she says she was assaulted, and moved to her family’s home out of state, while still attempting to finish her classes remotely.
The school decided to push forward with a Title IX hearing, and Fryberger retained outside counsel for the hearing. On December 11, 2014, just under two months after Fryberger says the assault occurred, the university held a standard three-person mixed gender panel, and the next day the university moved to expel Higgs.
In a statement emailed to Deadspin yesterday, the university said:
On December 12, 2014, following a hearing conducted on December 11, 2014, a University of Arkansas administrative hearing panel found Mr. Higgs responsible, applying a preponderance of the evidence standard, for violating Sections E8 (Sexual Harassment) and E9 (Sexual Misconduct) of the Code of Student Life. The panel expelled Mr. Higgs as of December 12, 2014. In a letter dated February 10, 2015, Chancellor G. David Gearhart affirmed the panel’s findings and sanctions.
Higgs lost his appeal, but, according to the lawsuit, was told he would not be expelled until May 10, 2015, after he would have received his diploma (emphasis per Fryberger’s attorney):
“The Appeal Decision Letter told Higgs, ‘In light of the fact that you had successfully completed your graduation requirements at the University of Arkansas prior to the date of the hearing panel’s decision, we do not believe that imposition of the sanction of immediate expulsion is appropriate in this case.’”
A few weeks later, on February 10, university officials were contacted by Tyler Kingkade of the Huffington Post, whose beat is higher education and often focuses on Title IX compliance. Kingkade questioned the decision to push the expulsion date until after graduation.
Immediately following Kingkade’s inquiry, Laura Jacobs, then the university spokesperson and now the associate vice-chancellor and chief of staff, told him “the previously transmitted letter had been sent in error,” explaining that the “wrong letter” had been sent while “the chancellor was out of office.” The university told Kingkade “Higgs’ expulsion was immediate.”
When asked to clarify on which day Higgs’ expulsion was effective, a university spokesperson said “the hearing panel expelled Mr. Higgs on December 12, 2014.”
She is suing on the grounds of gender discrimination in violation of Title IX, “a hostile educational environment,” and a “violation of the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act.” Fryberger says the university “acted with deliberate indifference to known acts of harassment, sexual violence, and discrimination.” The lawsuit lists the school’s inaction on Higgs’ prior campus incidents, the spreading of rumors by her tennis coaches, and the Chancellor’s initial appeal decision that would have allowed Higgs to remain a student until he received his diploma, amongst other things, as evidence of this deliberate indifference.
The university told Deadspin it “strongly disagree[s] with the allegations in the complaint. We believe the plaintiff’s concerns were fully investigated and addressed in a timely and comprehensive manner. The university acted proactively and appropriately while addressing those concerns. While generally prohibited by federal law from releasing student information to the public, we are now able to provide all of the facts through the judicial process and will be responding in court soon to vigorously contest these allegations.”
Higgs’s Twitter account says he is currently living in Phoenix, Arizona, and training at Altis World, a training facility that specializes in track and field athletes. Altis World did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation.
The full lawsuit is embedded below: