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University of Connecticut in $1.3 million settlement deal on sex assault lawsuit

By Scott Malone

BOSTON (Reuters) - The University of Connecticut on Friday said it had reached a $1.3 million deal to settle a 2013 lawsuit filed by five current and former students charging that the school had mishandled claims of sexual assault and harassment.

The five women who brought the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Connecticut said university officials had not seriously investigated claims that they had been sexually assaulted on campus.

"This lawsuit may have been settled but the issue of sexual assault on college campuses has not been," UConn President Susan Herbst said in a statement posted online. "UConn, like all colleges and universities, must do all it can to prevent sexual violence on our campuses, hold perpetrators accountable and provide victims with the resources and compassion they desperately need."

The suit settles claims with four women who said they were raped by fellow students, including a hockey player who said she was raped by a male hockey player and contended in court papers that she was cut from her team when she reported the attack. A fifth woman contended she had been drugged at a party and that university officials ignored her complaints.

The lawyer representing the women did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The deal comes at a time of intense scrutiny over how U.S. colleges and universities handle sex crimes. The White House in April declared an "epidemic" of sex assaults on campus.

The University of Connecticut is among 55 U.S. schools facing lawsuits that contend their policies aimed at preventing such attacks may be inadequate and a violation of Title IX, a 1972 U.S. law that prohibits gender discrimination at schools that receive federal funds.

Since the lawsuit was filed, the Storrs, Connecticut-based university has made a number of changes to the way it handles sexual assault claims, including creating a assistant dean of students for victim support services, and charging the school's Title IX office with investigating sex assault charges.

The plaintiffs said they did not hold the university responsible for the attacks or any harassment they faced but rather sued over policies, according to a joint statement issued by the women and the school.

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Bill Trott and Eric Walsh)

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