VIRGINIA — The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuitrecently heard oral argument in the case of Christy Brzonkala, a formerVirginia Polytechnic Institute student who claims she was discriminatedagainst by the school when they handled her alleged rape behind closeddoors.
Attorneys for the National Organization for Women and the NationalWomen’s Law Center presented argument June 4 on behalf of Brzonkala, whooriginally filed the suit in 1996.
Brzonkala accused two Virginia Tech football players of raping herin the fall of 1994. She reported the incident to the school in 1995, andin a closed disciplinary procedure, one player was cleared of all chargesand the other was found guilty of sexual misconduct. Later however, theplayer was granted a re-hearing by the university, and he was found guiltyof “abusive conduct” and his earlier punishment was reduced from universitysuspension to minor counseling, allowing him to return to the football team.
Brzonkala contended the judicial proceedings of the school werediscriminatory to her and protective of the men because they were athletes.Her suit against the two football players and Virginia Tech for $8.3million was the first civil suit to be brought under the federal ViolenceAgainst Women Act of 1994. The suit also sought an injunction to prohibitVirginia Tech from hearing sexual assault cases without first making aformal complaint with the police.
The district court dismissed her civil suit, and it was brought tothe Fourth Circuit on appeal.
Eileen Wagner, attorney for the trial phase of Brzonkala’s case andassociate local counsel for her appeal, said she was very pleased with theoral argument before the Fourth Circuit.
“I was bowled away by what seemed to be a gut reaction from thecourt,” Wagner said. “But I have no idea what the decision will be.”
Wagner said her hope is that the case is remanded by the FourthCircuit, and that the court sets clear guidelines to follow for retrial.
“If the decision goes against Christy, she has several options,”Wagner said. “We’re going to pursue this until the bitter end. VirginiaTech keeps stonewalling, and the more they stonewall, the deeper they getin.”
A decision should be handed down by the court in four to sixmonths, according to Wagner.