By William Moore
TUPELO – Rust College paid an undisclosed sum to settle a sexual misconduct case brought by three former students at the Holly Springs campus.
By settling the civil case, the college, president David Beckley and former professor Sylvester Oliver avoided what could have been an intensive trial.
“The case has been settled and the terms are confidential,” said Sam Cherry, senior partner for the Cochran Firm in Memphis that represented the women. “Our clients are all satisfied.”
The federal lawsuit was filed in August 2013 by one woman, listed as Jane Doe in court records, alleging that Oliver raped her in his campus office and that the college knew he had a history of sexually assaulting women. The lawsuit asked for $2 million in damages. Eight other women joined the lawsuit with allegations of sexual assault or harassment dating back to the 1993-94 school year.
In March, U.S. District Court Senior Judge Neal Biggers Jr. dismissed the claims of six of the Jane Does, saying the three-year statute of limitations had run out. Attorneys for three remaining women said they were ready to go to trial and felt the evidence would have led to a victory in the trial that was scheduled for February 2016.
“We took over 25 depositions and felt confident,” Cherry said. “The litigation has clearly heightened the awareness of sexual assault and sexual harassment on the campus.”
Jane Doe said that Oliver raped her in his office in September 2012. She reported the assault to a college employee and got no response. She then reported it to the Holly Springs Police Department. Less than a month later, Oliver was indicted by a grand jury and resigned from the college.
Jane Doe 6 said that Oliver groped her in a computer lab and later in his office. When she reported the incidents to a female and a male faculty member, both said reporting it to the administration would not do any good.
In 2011, Jane Doe 7 said Oliver made sexual advances toward her. She reported it and had a meeting with several college administrators. They said the incident did not meet harassment criteria and did not discipline Oliver.
This is not the first time Oliver has settled to avoid a trial. In November 2014, Oliver avoided a criminal trial by pleading guilty to the sexual battery of Jane Doe. The plea agreement allowed him to avoid jail time – a suspended sentence and five years probation – but he will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.