A lawsuit alleging the University of Wisconsin System failed to protect women from sexual harassment by the husband of a former UW-Whitewater chancellor has been dismissed in federal court.
The suit was filed in October 2021 by Stephanie Geottl Vander Pas, who was an undergraduate and master’s degree student at UW-Whitewater between 2012 and 2015. Her initial complaint alleged former chancellor Beverly Kopper’s husband Alan “Pete” Hill made comments about her looks and initiated hugs without her consent. At the time, Hill was often on campus working in an unpaid role as “Associate of the Chancellor.” On one occasion, according to the complaint, Hill reached underneath her skirt and “grabbed Stephanie’s buttocks.”
Vander Pas argued the university ignored evidence of Hill’s behavior, which caused her physical and emotional pain. She wanted the judge to find that the actions of UW-Whitewater and the UW System Board of Regents were in violation of federal Title IX protections.Vander Pas also sought compensatory and punitive damages “in an amount to be determined.”
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In 2018, former UW System President Ray Cross banned Hill from the UW-Whitewater campus after a UW System investigation found his behavior met the standard for creating a hostile work environment. Former chancellor Kopper resigned later that year.
U.S. District Judge J.P Stadtmueller dismissed the case with prejudice in late March after Vander Pas and her attorney Lisle Blackbourn failed to preserve and produce evidence requested by attorneys representing the UW System like text messages, social media posts and journals deemed relevant to the case.
Vander Pas deleted Facebook comments and didn’t shut off a setting on her cell phone that automatically deleted text messages after filing her complaint. She also claimed during a deposition with UW attorneys that she started journaling in 2021. When confronted by evidence of previous blog posts, Blackbourn claimed they were “pain logs” as opposed to journal entries.
Stadtmeuller’s order mostly blamed Blackbourn “for the majority of these violations– but Vander Pas’s and her counsel’s evasion together caused the (UW System Board of Regents) and the court to expend extensive time, energy and resources.”
“At any rate, the overarching problems and the Court’s most serious concerns relate to Vander Pas’s counsel’s sweeping pattern of deception, which evinces a willful and intentional mindset,” Standtmueller said.
Stadtmueller’s order directs Blackbourn to pay the UW System’s legal fees, which are nearly $18,000 according to court documents.
In response, Blackbourn has filed a motion asking Stadtmueller to reconsider his decision.
“It would be unfair to dismiss Stephanie’s (Vander Pas) entire suit against the Board of Regents on the grounds of alleged perjury or failure to investigate because these issues were never raised by the Board of Regents as grounds for its requested sanctions in its initial brief,” Blackbourn said.
Blakcbourn did not respond to a Wisconsin Public Radio request for comment on the order and sanctions. UW System spokesperson Mark Pitsch told WPR they wouldn’t comment either.
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