Court Case: Brzonkala v. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, et al.

Case History

Christy Brzonkala, a former undergraduate student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), sued the university for sexual harassment under Title IX. Brzonkala alleged that she was raped by two football players in her freshman year at Virginia Tech. One of the student rapists was twice found guilty by the university’s judicial committee. The committee recommended suspension for two semesters. The student appealed both committee decisions and the recommended suspension, but each time the decision was upheld. However, Virginia Tech never imposed a suspension or other meaningful punishment. Instead, the university publicized that the accused student had been charged with and found guilty of the lesser offense of ‘use of abusive language,’ and that he would return to campus that fall — with a full football scholarship.

Christy Brzonkala sued Virginia Tech under Title IX for disparate treatment in the school’s disciplinary proceedings and for the hostile environment created by the rape and exacerbated by the university’s response. A federal court dismissed both of her claims under Title IX, but the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated her hostile environment claim. Brzonkala settled with the university in 2000.

In a related case, Brzonkala v. Morrison, et al., Brzonkala sued her aggressors under the federal Violence Against Women Act — an act that afforded victims of sexual assault the opportunity to seek damages against their perpetrators in federal court. This case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which found the act unconstitutional by a 5-4 decision (U.S. v. Morrison, et al. and Brzonkala v. Morrison, et al., 529 U.S. 598 (2000)).