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Jameis Winston's accuser, Florida State reach $950,000 lawsuit settlement

25

January

Jameis Winston's accuser and Florida State University have reached a $950,000 settlement in a civil lawsuit, ending a months-long legal saga between Zephyrhills' Erica Kinsman and her former school.

Kinsman estimates receive $250,000 in exchange for dropping the federal Title IX lawsuit; her attorneys will receive $700,000, according to a statement released Monday by FSU. Kinsman's attorneys, John Clune and Baine Kerr, said that split is not "anywhere close" to accurate. Regardless, the total lump sum payment is believed to be the largest ever to one plaintiff in a Title IX sexual assault case. 

In a statement, FSU president John Thrasher said settling the case helps the university avoid "millions of dollars in additional litigation expense." 

"We have an obligation to our students, their parents and Florida taxpayers to deal with this case, as we do all litigation, in a financially responsible manner," Thrasher said. "With all the economic demands we face, at some point it doesn't make sense to continue even though  we are convinced we would have prevailed (in court)." 

Monday's settlement is the latest development in a case dating back to a December 2012 off-campus sexual encounter between Winston and Kinsman when both were freshmen at FSU.

Kinsman told police that night that she was raped and identified Winston - a prized recruit who was redshirting for the Seminoles - as the suspect a few weeks later; Winston has denied all wrongdoing and said the sex was consensual.

After a State Attorney's Office investigation and an FSU disciplinary hearing ended without charges against Winston, Kinsman sued the school. Her January 2015 lawsuit alleged that FSU deliberately hid sexual assault claims against Winston "to protect the football program." A year after the encounter, Winston won the Heisman Trophy and led the Seminoles to the program's third national championship.

The suit - first filed under the pseudonym Jane Doe - accused FSU of violating the federal gender equity law Title IX with its "clearly unreasonable response" and "hostile educational environment" that forced her to leave the university as the case became public in November 2013. Title IX requires schools to investigate and remedy gender discrimination, including sexual harassment and rape. A U.S. District Court trial had been scheduled for September in Tallahassee, and an official notice to dismiss the case without any admission of wrongdoing will be filed by Feb. 13, according to court documents. 

"I'll always be disappointed that I had to leave the school I dreamed of attending since I was little," Kinsman said in a statement released by her attorneys. "I am happy that FSU has committed to continue making changes in order to ensure a safer environment for all students. My hope is that the federal investigation of my complaint by the Office of Civil Rights will produce even more positive change, not just at FSU, but across the country." 

The Tampa Bay Times does not generally name victims or possible victims of sexual assault. But Kinsman has identified herself in court documents and has told her story publicly in The Hunting Ground, a documentary about sexual assaults on college campuses.

FSU has said it provided Kinsman with counseling through the victim's advocate program and that the appropriate university officials didn't know about the accusations until after they became public. In his statement, Thrasher outlined multiple changes FSU has made, including hiring a new full-time Title IX coordinator, forming a sexual assault prevention task force and adding six university positions related to on-campus safety. As part of the settlement, FSU will also publish annual reports for the next five years about its steps to stop and address on-campus sexual assault. 

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights has been conducting its own investigation into FSU's handling of the case since the spring of 2014. Monday's settlement is not expected to change that federal inquiry. Similar investigations are open at 160 other schools, including the University of Miami and USF. 

Those three factors -- FSU's changes, a commitment to maintaining those changes and the ongoing federal investigation -- were all pivotal for Kinsman to agree to drop the lawsuit, her attorneys said.

"Those were the three things non-economic that made her feel good," Clune said. 

Kinsman has also filed a separate civil lawsuit against Winston, last year's No. 1 overall NFL draft pick who just finished his rookie season with the Bucs. Winston has countersued Kinsman for defamation. That litigation is ongoing, and a mediation session is scheduled for July.

"FSU's choice to settle in no way compromises our commitment to fight for Jameis Winston and to clear the outrageous -- and false -- allegations against him," one of Winston's attorneys, Mayanne Downs, said in a statement. "We very much look forward to asking Ms. Kinsman questions while she's sworn to tell the truth." 

[Last modified: Monday, January 25, 2016 4:09pm]

    

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