Le suit alleges Yale at fault in death

The estate of former pharmacology student Annie Le GRD ’13 filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the University in New Haven Superior Court on Tuesday, alleging that pervasive sexual harrassment at the University “emboldened” her killer, Raymond Clark III, who is serving a 44-year sentence for the murder and who the suit claims was hired through Yale’s negligence.

The complaint lists court-appointed estate administrator and attorney Glorie Romaniello as the plaintiff and Yale University and the School of Medicine as defendants, and is authored by Le family lawyer Joseph Tacopina and attorney Paul Slager. They argue that Yale is liable for Le’s Sept. 8, 2009, death in 11 different ways, including “fostering an atmosphere of tolerance of sexual harassment and sexual assaults” related to potential violations of Title IX regulations currently under investigation by the federal government. The Le estate also accuses Yale of failing to promptly investigate Le’s disappearance, and asks for unspecified damages “significantly greater” than the minimum damages of $15,000 needed to qualify the case for Connecticut Superior Court.

“[B]efore Sept. 8, 2009, Yale had long taken inadequate steps to ensure the safety and security of women on its campus,” Tacopina wrote in a Tuesday email to the News. “Yale’s persistent tolerance of sexual harassment and sexual assaults on campus caused students to file a Title IX complaint against Yale University. … Annie Le was a victim of that environment.”

University General Counsel Dorothy Robinson, the representative named in the suit for both the University and the medical school, deferred comment to the Yale Office of Public Affairs and Communications.

“Yale believes there is no basis for the civil suit filed on behalf of the estate of Annie Le,” Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said in a statement Tuesday.

Conroy said Yale would “defend against [the suit] as appropriate.” The Yale community reacted to Le’s death with shock and grief and tried to “create a lasting memorial” to the slain student, he added, saying that the lawsuit does little to secure justice for Le or preserve her memory.

The complaint alleges that Yale was negligent in its screening of Clark, who had shown “a violent propensity towards women” before he was hired in 2004. As police began to investigate his possible involvement in Le’s death in mid-September 2009, the New Haven Independent reported that Clark forced his high school girlfriend to have sex with him when they were students at Branford High School in Branford, Conn. When she attempted to break up with him, he “confronted” her. According to a police report the Independent reviewed, the woman decided not to press charges against Clark.

In addition to Clark’s records, the suit alleges Yale had access to information about Clark’s violent past because the University also employed Clark’s sister and brother-in-law as laboratory technicians in the 10 Amistad St. building where Le was killed. Those two employees were both “well aware” of Clark’s past behavior given their relationship to him, the suit claims. The suit alleges that Yale lacked “reasonable care” when it hired Clark for a position that put him in unsupervised contact with others.

But Yale could not be assumed to know about Clark’s past legal issues because employers cannot access a job seeker’s juvenile criminal records, according to Paul Carty, a New Haven lawyer who has been practicing personal injury law for 26 years. He said that the Le estate’s allegations that an employer needs to screen job candidates so intensely “border on the ridiculous.”

Aside from a speeding ticket, Clark had no adult criminal record in the state of Connecticut as of fall 2009, according to the Independent.

Conroy denied that the University could have known Clark was a danger to others.

“Yale had no information indicating that [former lab technician and Le’s killer] Raymond Clark [III] was capable of committing this terrible crime, and no reasonable security measures could have prevented his unforeseeable act,” Conroy said.

David K. Jaffe, a partner at Brown, Paindiris & Scott in Hartford and an expert on personal injury cases, said that Tacopina and Slager must be able to show that Yale had information that indicated Clark was dangerous.

“Depending on what’s in [Clark’s personnel] file, and if Yale has a reasonable screening process or not, then there could be a good suit,” Jaffe said. “But these suits are not easy to prove.”

Clark aside, the suit alleges that Yale failed to “take reasonable steps to provide a safe and secure environment” at 10 Amistad and employed improperly trained and underqualified security staff at the building.

The lawsuit also alleges that Yale is liable for damages because it failed to “promptly and adequately” investigate Le’s disappearance.

The University should have noticed something amiss when Le did not evacuate 10 Amistad for a fire alarm that went off at 12:55 p.m. on the day she was killed, Tacopina and Slager argue. Additionally, when a housemate of Le’s called the authorities at Yale at 10:40 p.m. to report her missing that day, the University did not begin to investigate her absence until the next morning.

Carty and Jaffe both said that this argument will only succeed if the Le estate’s lawyers can prove that starting the investigation earlier would have prevented Le’s death. If evidence shows Le died sometime between when her friend contacted the University and when the search began, Carty said, then Yale could be liable.

All things considered, Jaffe said, the case could be worth as much as $10 million if the University were found completely liable for Le’s death. If Yale were only partially liable, the estate would win damages proportional to Yale’s liability, he added. Wrongful death damages are determined by a metric that takes into account lost wages and life expectancy of the victim, Jaffe said, adding that he would expect the Le estate to seek “pain and suffering” damages since Le died a painful death after an intense physical struggle with Clark.

Still, Jaffe said juries have few guidelines for awarding damages to plaintiffs and might decide differently in Le’s case. Carty doubted at all whether the estate could win in court, and said he believes Yale’s case is stronger.

“The only way [Yale wouldn’t win] under these circumstances is if the jury pool is swayed by sympathy,” he said.

The Le family first hired lawyers last summer to privately look into the death. Last September, Brian King, an attorney with Tacopina’s firm, appeared at a routine court hearing for Clark and afterward spoke with the media outside the courthouse, where he raised questions about Yale’s handling of the tragedy.

“Why wasn’t anybody helping her when this was happening?” King said. “Where was anybody? Apparently Yale has police, also have security. What was their role that day in checking for her? So those are the things that we’re looking into right now.”

Clark, 26, is ineligible for parole, and will be released in 2053.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    “Fostering” to too strong a word.

  • The Anti-Yale

    In addition to being too ‘strong’ a word, “fostering” has a ‘mothering’, ‘protective’ quality to it which assigns an element of malignity to Yale’s behavior which seems out of place in a murder suit. Yale’s institutional male ‘obtuseness’ may certainly have been evident (as it is in society at large), but to say that it ‘nurtured’ an atmosphere which led to ***murde***r is a stretch.

    • student

      do you actually know anything about this environment? I know for certain that you don’t. So leave these assertions to people who actually are familiar with the facts.

  • concerned

    Yale had no phone service to the laboratory facilities where Le worked and was attacked, killed, and disposed of.

    Not only was there no phone service, this was anticipated because she didn’t bring her cell phone with her from her desk into the facility–to perform an experimental procedure whose paper trail could be
    picked up at the point of disruption and was–not by Le’s supervisors but by a post doc who only then noticed blood spatters on the lab accessories involved.

    These are among the institutional issues that expose the true inequalities
    in place for many women who work and study at the University. Why?

  • MsMoneypenny

    It seemed to me that Yale did everything possible and beyond to investigate this case. 10 Amistad is like a high security fortress. Not having any formal criminology background, I would nonetheless guess that the perpetrator killed Ms Lee at the time they struggled and no amount of investigation would have prevented her death. But I’d be curious what sort of background check was done on the perpetrator before he was hired.

    • student

      Do not be fooled into thinking it is a high security fortress. That is a myth put out in the media two years ago. It wasn’t true then and it isn’t true now. I work there. I know exactly the conditions that Annie found herself in that day.

  • DCHeretic

    Yale had no reasonable way to know that Clark had a history of violence. His juvenile records were sealed and Yale did not have access to them. I’m puzzled about the assertion that because Yale employed two members of his family, the university should have known about Clark’s violent past. That suggests that Yale should have interrogated the family members. Maybe even forced them to undergo a polygraph. Why not waterboard them?

    A job at Yale is not the same as a job at NSA or CIA. Clark was a low-level lab tech whose on-record adult conduct did not reveal a threat. Unless there is a major element of the case that has not been revealed, I don’t see how Yale was even tangentially responsible for the Le murder.

    Alum 1995

    • student

      There are details that you don’t know, not involving that ex-girlfriend of his who filed a juvenile complaint.

      • winteralfs

        Can you elaborate? This is very cryptic. R.I.P. Annie.

  • Phil123

    Scum sucking laywers. Thats what its about.

  • SY10

    It is unclear to me why, even if Yale had known about Clark’s past, it would be liable. I’m unaware of any reason that having once been accused of a crime, but never convicted (not even charged), would be considered a valid reason not to hire someone to work as a lab tech. Also, unless there is any evidence that Clark had sexually harassed or assaulted women while at Yale prior to the killing, I don’t see how Yale’s poor policies for dealing with sexual harassment/assault make them at all liable in this case. I think Phil123 has it right, some unscrupulous lawyers, hoping to make some money for themselves, have convinced the Le family to blame Yale for what happened.

  • classmate

    As a grad student at the medical campus, this news makes me sad and frustrated. It in no way honors the memory of an extraordinarily kind and bright girl. There are (and were) already very high security measures in place. This tragedy occurred in a room that not only was locked with key card limited access, but also electronically recorded who accessed the room 24/7. Can any of us really expect higher security than that anytime in our daily lives?

    As a female, I also completely disagree with the accusations of an environment of “sexual harassment and sexual assaults.” In my years here, Yale has fostered a personally and intellectually nurturing, safe, and healthy environment. Can they prevent or predict every crazy action that any crazy person might do? Of course not, nobody can. To sue the school that is mourning Annie’s loss only adds insult to an already tragic situation. Terrible.

  • kattrby

    It is a mistake to think of this as a suit brought by Annie’s family.
    It is a suit brought by her biological parents who are looking for profit, who went to an ambulancee-chaser in LA, who then cut a deal with Tacopina. Everybody gets a percentage.

    Which is why this is all so very tragic, and destructive, and desperately wrong..

    It is not really about Yale’s internal policies and care. Tacopina has just asked some hireling to come up with the most emotive headline-grabbing accusations he could find so that he could ramp up the claim. To understand that is vital.

    Please, please, do not get distracted into tiny issues about minor details. That is exactly what Tacopina wants you to do. He is a greedy flim-flam artist who wants to raise everybody’s temperature, because that’s how he makes his money. He has not the slightest respect for who Annie was, and does not care a hoot about what damage he might cause. Check his record.
    This is the same man who has run some interesting defenses for rapists.

    I am not on the warpath against Tacopina. He is a carrion-feeder, but there are many of those.

    What does trouble me very badly is that the life, and the death, of Annie has been used for other people’s purposes. The grief ghouls, and the profiteers. It may have seemed like a good idea to put up a memorial to Annie outside her high school, but nobody seemed to to think about what it might be like, how hurtful, for her brothers to have to walk past it every day on the way to a class.

    • thenewmuse123

      Actually, it is a grave mishap on your part to make naive assumptions about both biological parents suing Yale. If you take a look at the most recent Yale Daily News posts, you will see that only Vivian Le, Annie Le’s biological mother, is behind the lawsuit. Being the attention media whore that she is, her numerous solo interviews with big name talk shows like the Today and Dr. Drew shows prove that she is working alone. In the future, please reference to Vivian instead of the entire Le family when discussing this frivolous, profit-fueled case.

  • joey00

    “Amistad is a fortress” , it sure is ,i rode my bike past it several months after the murder.She was locked in with the monsters.There was no escape as they tracked her down and forced fed rides to work from her home in East Rock.I wonder if she complained at all about the dude and his co-worker posse ? Would anyone care or be afraid of them as they waited for the trade off/patronage promise to come to fruition..The multiple agencies called in by Yale to investigate this won the day .

  • annwoolliams

    Thankfully, in New Zealand,we are unable to sue in cases like this. We as a society believe the responsibility lies with the perpetrator, not his surroundings in his last job, or his upbringing, or his parents, or a girl who rejected him when he was 15 etc etc . The whole blame rests with the person who did the deed.

    My feeling is that if the parents are going to pursue Yale then maybe it is also ‘sensible’ to go after the murderer’s parents for helping make him who he is, his high school girlfriend who did not press charges,and any other person who got in his way, made his life unfair, made him what he is today.

    Becasue they are adding to a fallacy; that the death of their daughter was not solely by the hand of the convicted murderer… that he was a victim of all the situations leading up to the murder.
    They are saying the murderer is not entirely responsible for what he did.

    There is no way Yale is responsible for the man’s behaviour. He forced himself on a girlfriend and she did not press charges. Yale cannot know that.

    Yale is not responsible for any sexist behaviour on campus. In fact they foster a healthy safe environment and some students act like idiots and mis-use their freedoms. With freedom comes personal responsibility. And isn’t that what it comes down to?

    I hope the parents in their anguish are not chosing the wrong path. The lawyers are the only ones who will gain in this. My sincere condolences.

  • yellowmj

    Before any of you conclude that Annie’s “real” family is behind this suit. Let me just shut down that notion. I am Annie’s youngest uncle, James Bui. I spent that terrible week on Yale campus awaiting the news of Annie’s fate. This suit is the working of a misguided biological mother whom because of her close ties with a scumbag of a lawyer (Marie Nguyen) in the LA area has plotted this suit since day one. I’m not here to smear my sister, but I’m ashamed of how easily she is manipulated by these scumbags. Speaking on behalf of my family, Annies aunts and uncles including the ones who really raised her, the Bui and the Nguyen family has nothing to do with this suit. I wish these scumbag lawyers would be more respectful and just name my sister Vivian Le as the plaintiff and not the Le family. The Bui’s and the Nguyen’s are hardworking immigrants who believes in a modest life and we’ve earned everything we’ve worked for since coming to the U.S. We don’t believe in profitting from my niece’s tragic fate.

    • Sad_Randy

      James, those of us who have followed this horrible crime from day one already knew what the truth is on this latest filing. But more importantly, I hope you know that the people who knew Annie and those of us who didn’t but have been forever changed by her life, only wish you, your family, and Jon strength to get through these 5 days.
      May you feel how much Annie loved you to ease your pain today.

    • winteralfs

      My sincere condolences James, like so many others, Annie’s story changes my life. I am sorry for this latest development. Annie remains in my heart to this day, both for her accomplishments and because of the class and dignity displayed by your family sense day one.

    • kattrby

      Bravo James. You said what needed saying, and your anger is utterly justified. I know that this suit is creating yet more distress for for Annie’s real family.

      Ths suit is not only greedy, it is heartless, causing extra pain.

  • SpacePotato

    Considering the fact that the Pharmacology Department head is a dishonest sexual
    harasser himself, (that Yale knew and knows about and still chooses to keep on staff) this lawsuit is hardly a surprise!

    Yale’s administration fosters this sort of behavior.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eu9bBeb35gE

  • The Anti-Yale

    I do not know the party in question who is the object of Spacepotatoe’s attack in the post above; but, I am concerned that the Internet permits anonymous posters to accomplish the wholesale distribution of what may be libel and slander with no accountability. As a leader in journalism for over a century, *The Yale Daily News* should employ its contacts with Yale Law School and with respectable news organizations to develop rules for anonymous postings on the Internet and lobby for their adoption by respectable parties.

    Paul D. Keane
    M. Div. ’80

    • student

      look it up. it’s true.

    • SpacePotato

      Re-read my posting (or have someone read it to you). There, you will learn the answers to your questions, and even learn the correct spelling of potato!

  • attila

    So… the only person allowed to post mad ravings is PK?

  • joey00

    “What may be libel and slander with no accountability”? You mean with no link or w/o posting a video to support the statement – Like Spacepotato did. Many Yale employees and scholars want to post facts and eye witness accounts but fear for their job,and safety

  • The Anti-Yale

    ANONYMOUS POSTING IS COWARDLY. Defamation is unattributed and averts accountability.

    Paul D. Keane

    M.Div. 80

  • Dmitry

    It was hardly coincidental that Joe Tacopina and his team chose the first anniversary of Annie’s tragic loss to announce its legal inquiry. It did not come as a surprise that the complaint was filed around the second anniversary date. While the legal team achieved its apparent goal – to stir emotions in anticipation of the high-profile lawsuit, it showed little respect and compassion to the people primarily affected by the tragedy – Annie’s family, friends and colleagues – at the time of mourning and remembrance.

    • kattrby

      Well said.

      I know of some of the extra distress this suit is causing. I am very glad indeed that Annie’s uncle has been able to express his anger, and the reasons for it.

      • student

        I agree. However, I don’t know about anyone else, but I still believe that there are people who need to answer for their role in this. While I think this lawsuit is tasteless and disrespectful, as both James and Kat have elaborated on, I do wish there was some way that ALL of those responsible for the situation that Annie found herself in that day will be brought to justice… There is so much that still upsets me so about how this was handled before, during, and afterwards by a few select people. I can’t get it out of my head. Part of me kind of hopes that I am alone in this, though, because I wouldn’t wish this kind of anger on anybody. It’s not easy to deal with.

        • kattrby

          The horrible thing about the aftermath of a killing is that good people get themselves into knots. This I have had dealings with before, and it happens just about every time.
          I hope not to sound patronising, because that is not remotely the way I feel or want to sound – this is about desperate sadness. I think your feelings speak very well of you, student, but the sad miserable fact is that this is one of those Godawful times when nothing like this could have been reasonably anticipated. There is only one person responsible, not more. Everything looks different after the event, but none of us can ever claim to be able to see such an event coming.
          After the event, a crazy reversal of logic can so easily start. Before the event, that Clark had two other members of his family reliably working for Yale
          almost certainly seemed like a good thing. He was not some weird stray loner who walked in off the street and asked for a job. Now the crazy logic reversal makes that a bad thing.

  • Sad_Randy

    So much of all this is such an embarassment. Few showing any compassion or respect. How can so many people want to say such cruel things knowing that friends and family members of Annie’s would read this trash? On a day which marks the second anniversary of Annie being taken from the people who loved her most, so many of you can only think of how much fun it would be to torment these people. Have you no shame? This kind of blatant disrespect is exactly what caused this entire mess in the first place. Can you not have any compassion for those people who are trying to deal with her loss? If not, can’t you just fake it? I’m sure you can because I am sure that most of you don’t believe the BS you typed in the first place.

    This situation has been good vs. evil from the very start. If you have to pick a side, why not choose “good”?

  • joey00

    Well, as long as one does not confuse reporting facts,quotations,eye witness accounts,newspaper articles defamation..Anonymous posting is a nightmare for a corrupt Govt.One that sells dreams and promises the folks anything to acquire a quick goal.Anonymous postings and not anon ones will surely sink an untruthful union or deceitful administration. -