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Lawsuit alleges University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine did nothing in sexual assault case

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Posted at 6:13 PM, Apr 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-28 18:16:43-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — A Jacobs School of Medicine resident is accusing a fellow resident, Dr. Amir Akl, of sexual assault and harassment and accusing the University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Studies of not taking action.

"There is evidence he improperly touched our client. Improperly touched not only her face, her neck, her hair, her breasts, at one occasion, as we described in our complaint, he was touching her groin area, her upper thigh," Lisa Coppola, the alleged victim's attorney, said.

According to the lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court at the end of March, the alleged victim claimed she reported the incidents to her program director in December 2019.

The lawsuit said the program director told the victim she would report the matter to University at Buffalo's Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

This is the first step of the University at Buffalo's published discrimination and harassment policy. The policy says a committee will then be appointed for an investigation and report its findings to the senior associate dean within 30 days, unless there are exceptional circumstances.

"It interviews the victim, then the perpetrator and any eyewitnesses. It's hard to believe the university never contacted our client when she came forward to our program director to do an interview," Coppola said.

The resident alleged she detailed instances of sexual assault and harassment again in January 2020 in her written program evaluation.

"With all of the evidence in front of it, the university simply ignored its policies and ignored its legal obligation to protect this female resident," Coppola said.

In February, the lawsuit said the plaintiff's attorneys from the Coppola Firm sent a written report of complaints to the University at Buffalo. The lawsuit said the university told the alleged victim to report these actions to the office of EDI, even though the plaintiff's attorney said EDI already acknowledged the report.

"It was never looked in to. We have no evidence. We have asked the university well prior to bringing the lawsuit to come forward and tell us if they disagreed, if it resulted in an investigation or analysis, if they concluded something different. They were absolutely silent," Coppola said.

The plaintiff's attorneys said they conducted their own investigation and found more than a dozen witnesses. They said just one month after the February 2021 report was sent to the school the alleged victim was working side by side with the alleged perpetrator.

"He ends up in the same clinic where she is working. He's within 10 feet of her," Coppola said.

As of April 28, 2020, the resident accused of sexual assault and harassment, Dr. Amir Akl, is still listed on the school of medicine's website. 7 Eyewitness News reached out to him, but did not hear back.

In a statement to 7 Eyewitness News, a representative for the University at Buffalo said the school does not comment on pending litigation:

"The University at Buffalo takes all allegations of sexual violence and assault on and off campus very seriously. Nothing is more important than the safety and welfare of the members of our community.

The Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) is responsible for ensuring UB’s compliance with laws, rules, regulations and policies prohibiting sexual harassment and sexual violence in UB programs and activities. EDI will investigate reports of discrimination and harassment, including sexual violence. Under laws and policies prohibiting discrimination and harassment, the university must conduct investigations in a manner that protects the rights of all parties to a complaint.

A critical part of the investigatory process is an initial interview with the individual who is bringing forward an allegation to allow the university to obtain evidence, including the names of witnesses, any available documentation, or other corroborating information. This information is necessary for EDI to conduct an effective, informed, and thorough investigation. Importantly, the university must conduct investigations in a manner that provides due process to individuals accused of violations of university policies, and the university cannot discipline students or employees based upon unsubstantiated allegations.

EDI’s policies prohibit disclosure of confidential information about an individual matter or investigation. The university will not disclose case-specific facts or details about any pending litigation.

It is important that individuals who experience sexual violence report their experiences with sufficient information for the university to take action. UB takes each sexual violence complaint seriously, and will proceed with an investigation and hearing when an individual has reported sexual violence. For the 2019 reporting year, UB received 62 reports of sexual violence and of this number, 18 students sought redress through UB’s conduct process. Individuals who are accused of sexual violence have the right to due process, including knowledge of the specific allegations against them that are sufficiently detailed for them to be able to respond. Of the cases that UB considered through the conduct process, 9 respondents were found responsible for sexual violence following a hearing, and each individual found responsible received disciplinary sanctions. As established by this data, UB has acted and will continue to act on claims of sexual violence when these are reported to UB. UB cannot act when a complainant does not provide sufficient information to allow us to know that they have experienced sexual violence, and our ability to respond is limited when a complainant does not cooperate with the university’s process for conducting a full and effective investigation.

For many years, UB has had sexual violence and misconduct prevention and response programs, policies and practices in place to protect and support survivors of sexual misconduct and to educate the campus community. The University also mandates annual sexual harassment prevention training for all employees, including medical residents, and this training includes the contact information for EDI to inform all employees of how to report sexual harassment, including sexual violence. For more information regarding sexual misconduct and sexual violence prevention, reporting and response at UB, go to www.buffalo.edu/equity.html and http://www.buffalo.edu/news/key-issues/sexual-assault-prevention.html."