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Stevens v. Brigham Young University - Idaho

United States District Court, D. Idaho

December 3, 2019

LORI STEVENS Plaintiff,
v.
BRIGHAM YOUNG UNIVERSITY - IDAHO dba BYU-Idaho, a Utah corporation and SUSAN STOKES, personal representative of the Estate of Stephan Stokes, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          B. Lynn Winmill U.S. District Court Judge.

         INTRODUCTION

         The Court has before it a motion for sanctions filed by the plaintiff Lori Stevens. The Court held an evidentiary hearing on November 11-12, 2019, and directed counsel to file further briefing. That briefing has now been received and the motion is at issue. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny the motion but will allow full inquiry at trial into the issues raised here and will consider jury instructions discussed further below.

         LITIGATION BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Stevens, a former BYU-I student, alleges that Robert Stokes, a former BYU-I professor, initiated an unwanted relationship with her while she was a student and Stokes was a professor at BYU-I. Stevens alleges that this relationship ultimately became sexually and emotionally abusive. She further asserts that she, along with another student, Danielle Spencer, reported Stokes' inappropriate and abusive behavior to several BYU-I professors and officials, who failed to take any action. The relationship ended when Stokes died on July 1, 2016, from complications during heart surgery. Stevens originally sued BYU-I and the Stokes estate. She later settled her claims against the Stokes estate. The LDS Church intervened for “the limited purpose of protecting its claims of privilege. . . .” See Order (Dkt. No. 89).

         There are now four claims in this case against BYU-I:

1. Teacher-on-student hostile environment/sexual harassment actionable under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act;
2. Teacher-on-student quid pro quo sexual harassment;
3. Hostile learning environment in violation of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act; and
4. Violation of the Idaho Human Rights Act.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         In her motion for sanctions, Stevens claims that BYU-I improperly influenced the testimony of a crucial witness, Danielle Spencer, who was a friend and confidant of Stevens. Stevens alleges that BYU-I's counsel manipulated Spencer into changing her initial testimony that would have favored Stevens to testimony that is now detrimental to her case. Stevens argues that as an unrepresented third-party witness, Spencer should have been able to testify about her interactions, provide relevant documents, and exit the litigation. Instead, Stevens asserts, BYU-I met with Spencer for hours to coach and influence her, educate her on privilege, and limit and shape her testimony. At this point the LDS Church stepped in to pay for legal counsel it selected to represent Spencer. Stevens asserts that BYU-I's counsel and the LDS Church-appointed counsel for Spencer then consulted to ensure Spencer took actions and gave testimony favorable to BYU-I. She further asserts that BYU-I provided Spencer with additional deferments for her schooling beyond its stated policy, significant grade changes, and free counseling.

         To address these arguments, the Court will begin by reviewing what the record reveals about Spencer's knowledge and conduct concerning the relationship between Stevens and Stokes. Stevens testified that during her relationship with Stokes, she told Spencer that Stokes was harassing her:

I told her [Spencer] that he [Stokes] was calling me his wife, that he was loving me, that he was touching me, that he was kissing me . . . . He's coming to my house and he won't leave me alone. And I told her [Spencer]: I am trying and trying and trying to push him away and I can't do ...

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