By Ronica Shannon
Register News Writer
Legal counsel for Berea College said the institution should not be punished for the sexual assault of a student because the victim placed herself in a position to be harmed and did not take action to prevent her injuries.
Berea College filed a response Tuesday in Madison Circuit Court to a lawsuit filed March 2 by student Tiffany Leigh Pratt, who was the victim of a sexual assault by a former Berea College sociology instructor at Berea College.
Demetrius Semien, who originally was charged with first-degree sexual abuse of Pratt, pleaded guilty in January to a reduced charge of fourth-degree assault, a Class A misdemeanor.
He was accused of subjecting Pratt, who was visiting his home, to sexual contact “by forcible compulsion.”
In its answer to Pratt’s lawsuit, Berea College said, “All the injuries and damages .... were caused and brought about by her own negligence and/or intentional act which was a substantial factor in bringing about ... injuries and damages.”
The college’s response claims that Pratt could have prevented her injuries.
“... the plaintiff’s provocation and conduct was the substantial factor in causing and bringing about the injuries and damages of which she complains,” the answer states.
According to the suit, “Dr. Demetrius Semien (an instructor of sociology at the college during the 2009-10 academic year) set out to gain the trust and confidence of (Pratt) by volunteering to help her meet her goal of graduating from college and being a role model for her minor son,” the suit reads. “On March 6, 2010, Dr. Semien convinced ... Pratt to come to his home to study ... Once (Pratt) arrived, Dr. Semien offered her alcohol, which she refused, and after a period of time sexually assaulted the plaintiff.”
The college also claims in its answer that there was no knowledge of the professor/student relationship and that no one at the college had any control over their behavior.
Legal counsel for the college raised a number of defenses, including constitutionality of punitive damages which Pratt is seeking, and asked that the court dismiss the request for punitive damages.
Punitive damages are monetary rewards that go beyond what is to be compensated in the form of medical bills, lost wages, attorney fees, etc.
Pratt’s lawsuit asks for $4,000 that included past medical bills, future medical bills, lost wages, loss of her power to earn money in the future, mental and physical pain, suffering and anguish, punitive damages, costs related to the litigation and a trial by jury.
The college is asking for dismissal of the lawsuit. The legal counsel also asks that if a trial is conducted, the college’s liability should be determined, and then the court should assess damages.
The college is asking that the complaint be dismissed, a trial by jury (if the complaint is not dismissed), attorney fees and “... any and all other relief to which it may be properly entitled.”
Berea College is being represented by Melissa A. Wilson of Ward, Hocker and Thornton PLLC based in Lexington, and Pratt is being represented by Justin Morgan of The Morgan Law Firm based in Lexington.
Ronica Shannon can be reached at email@example.com or 624-6608.