Loyola University Chicago ‘mishandled and underreported’ sex misconduct complaints involving students, a lawsuit says

Three women are suing the school run by the Jesuit Catholic religious order.

Madeline Kane stands in front of Loyola University building
Madeline Kane, a graduate student at Loyola University Chicago, is one of three women suing the Catholic college, saying administrators “systemically mishandled and underreported student complaints of sexual misconduct.” Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere / Chicago Sun-Times
Madeline Kane stands in front of Loyola University building
Madeline Kane, a graduate student at Loyola University Chicago, is one of three women suing the Catholic college, saying administrators “systemically mishandled and underreported student complaints of sexual misconduct.” Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere / Chicago Sun-Times

Loyola University Chicago ‘mishandled and underreported’ sex misconduct complaints involving students, a lawsuit says

Three women are suing the school run by the Jesuit Catholic religious order.

WBEZ brings you fact-based news and information. Sign up for our newsletters to stay up to date on the stories that matter.

At an off-campus fraternity party in 2020 when she was a sophomore at Loyola University Chicago, Madeline Kane says she was pressed against a wall and groped so aggressively by a male student that she sustained bruises.

When she later told fraternity leaders what’d happened, they apologized and told her the man, “who was pledging the fraternity at the time, would not be allowed to join the fraternity,” she says in a lawsuit filed against Loyola.

Kane said she also filed a report with the university’s administration. In “contrast to the fraternity’s response and despite overwhelming evidence Madeline proffered — including photos of bruises, texts, receipts and multiple witnesses — Loyola took months to conduct an investigation and provided Madeline with negligible support throughout the process,” according to the lawsuit.

Loyola ultimately said it found “insufficient evidence” to support her accusation against the student.

In a lawsuit filed in Cook County circuit court under the Illinois Preventing Sexual Violence in Higher Education Act, Kane and two other women say the university “systemically mishandled and underreported student complaints of sexual misconduct” and “maintained a de facto policy” to “suppress reports of sexual violence and sexual harassment” — accusations that Loyola’s student newspaper, The Phoenix, reported on for years during the tenure of school president Jo Ann Rooney.

Jo Ann Rooney, president of Loyola University Chicago
Jo Ann Rooney, president of Loyola University Chicago from 2016 until earlier this year. Chicago Sun-Times

Rooney, who was hired in 2016 and left her post in the last few months, couldn’t be reached for comment. Susan Sher, Loyola’s board chairwoman, didn’t return calls.

School spokesman Matthew McDermott wouldn’t discuss the lawsuit. McDermott said Loyola, which is run by the Jesuit Catholic religious order, “is committed to ensuring that reports of sexual misconduct are addressed consistent with federal and state laws and the university’s institutional values and educational mission.”

On its two Chicago campuses, Loyola recorded 16 reports of rape in the past three years, according to the school’s annual security and safety report required by federal law.

The lawsuit, filed in September, says:

  • Kane “was forced to conduct parts of the investigation herself,” including deciding “who Loyola should interview and what evidence the university should collect.”
  • The school “allowed Madeline’s assailant, along with the one friend he identified with knowledge of the assault, to delay the investigation process by skipping multiple interviews without consequence.”
  • When Kane “inquired about mental health care and other resources available to her” from the school, “she was given negligible support,” left to “seek out resources and information on her own.”
part of lawsuit against Loyola University Chicago
Part of a lawsuit recently filed by three women against Loyola University Chicago. Cook County circuit court

About six months after filing her complaint with the school, “Loyola concluded its investigation” and told Kane “via email her perpetrator was ‘not responsible’ due to ‘insufficient evidence,’ ” according to the lawsuit.

Kane, who’s now 22 and a graduate student at Loyola after getting her undergraduate degree earlier this year, said she’s suing the school “to be a voice for people who couldn’t step forward.”

The other women who are part of the case have similar stories of sexual violence at Loyola and problems with the school’s response, according to records and interviews.

Loyola students gather for protest
Campus protests against sexual assault at Loyola University Chicago last year were spurred by students sharing their stories on social media. Nicky Andrews / Chicago Sun-Times

Marissa Sepulveda said that, during her freshman year at Loyola in 2019, she was with a male student in a dorm building when he pinned her down, forced kisses on her and groped her, though she was able to fight him off.

She filed a complaint with the school, and a Loyola administrator “allowed Marissa’s assailant to remain on campus with unfettered access to other Loyola students” during an in-house investigation, according to the suit.

The suit says the same student was accused of raping another Loyola student two months later and that the school then kicked him off campus and expelled him.

Later that year, while Sepulveda was dating another man who attended Loyola, she says in the suit that he led her into a bathroom in a Loyola dormitory and raped her while she was intoxicated to the point she was nearly unconscious.

Sepulveda waited until 2021 to file a sexual assault complaint with Loyola against the second man, saying she wasn’t sure she wanted to go through another school investigation because the earlier one was “traumatizing and flawed.”

Marissa Sepulveda
Marissa Sepulveda, one of three women suing Loyola University Chicago over its handling of sexual misconduct accusations involving students. Provided to the Chicago Sun-Times

In that case, the school did not follow a “no-contact directive” and took nine months investigating before finding that the man had engaged in sexual misconduct, non-consensual sexual contact, non-consensual sexual penetration and “dating/domestic violence,” according to the suit.

When the school still planned to let the man graduate and attend Loyola’s graduation ceremony, the suit says Sepulveda “protested and obtained over 2,600 signatures of other Loyola students urging the university to prevent” him “from receiving a degree from Loyola and to prevent him from attending Loyola’s graduation ceremony.” He got his degree but didn’t attend the ceremony, according to the suit.

The suit says that a former Loyola student, seeing that petition on social media, contacted Sepulveda to say she “had left Loyola because she was also sexually assaulted, but the university failed to act and/or support her.”

Sepulveda, now 22, later transferred to another college, saying Loyola was an environment too “hostile … to bear.”

The third plaintiff in the lawsuit, Catherine Ann Cappello, said she was sexually assaulted in 2012 — while Rooney’s predecessor, the Rev. Michael Garanzini, was Loyola’s president — by a priest from another country who was taking classes at Loyola.

Garanzini declined to comment.

Loyola University Chicago’s main campus in Rogers Park
Loyola University Chicago’s main campus in Rogers Park. Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere / Chicago Sun-Times

Cappello said she expected others also would be present at a meeting off-campus to work on a group project outside of class at the clergy house where the priest lived but instead found herself alone with him and that the priest groped her and forced kisses on her.

“I was trying to push him away, and he just wouldn’t let me,” said Cappello, 57, who was a Loyola graduate student.

When she “attempted to file a formal report with the Title IX office” at Loyola that handles complaints about sexual misconduct, “she was precluded from doing so,” according to the lawsuit. It says Loyola administrators told her “no action could be taken against her assailant because he was visiting from another country and, therefore, not under Loyola’s direction and control.”

“My impression was that they really didn’t care about the safety of the students,” Cappello said. “They made it sound like it wasn’t a big deal.”

Cappello said that prompted her to leave Loyola, where she’d come to pursue a master’s degree in pastoral counseling in hopes of helping victims of assault. She said she left the school with a tarnished view of Catholic institutions.

The priest wasn’t identified in the suit, but Cappello confirmed his identity. Now living overseas, he couldn’t be reached for comment.

The women are seeking unspecified monetary damages from Loyola and to require the university to take steps to prevent sexual violence and accurately track reports of it happening.

After filing complaints with Loyola, they were told by university investigators they also could file reports with the police but weren’t encouraged to do so and didn’t because they felt intimidated by the process, according to Ashley Pileika, one of their lawyers. They’re also being represented by attorneys Darren Wolf and Beth Fegan.