The XX Factor

Florida State Pays Landmark Title IX Settlement Over Alleged Jameis Winston Rape

Jameis Winston in October 2014 after a Florida State game in Tallahassee.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Though Jameis Winston may never answer to allegations that he raped a fellow student as a freshman Florida State University quarterback in 2012, the school has paid Winston’s alleged victim $950,000 in what may be the largest sexual assault­–related Title IX settlement to date.

Erica Kinsman filed the civil suit in January 2015, alleging that FSU papered over her accusations to keep Winston, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2013 and now plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, on the school’s storied team. The alleged rape took place off campus, so Kinsman brought her initial report to the Tallahassee Police Department, which took nearly a year to bring the case to prosecutors. Still, the university was obligated under Title IX, which protects students against gender discrimination, to look into the matter and punish Winston as needed to keep the campus safe. After minimal investigation, neither institution charged Winston with any crime or violation.

In her claim, Kinsman accused FSU of obstructing a fair investigation into the night she says she was raped (Winston claims the encounter was consensual). The case has seen a few bizarre and demoralizing twists: FSU ended up charging two of Winston’s friends, who told the police they’d watched and filmed Winston and Kinsman having consensual sex, with invasion of privacy and creating a hostile sexual environment for another student. The police made first contact with Winston as a suspect by calling him on the phone, which the local prosecutor called “insane.”

The Tampa Bay Times reports that Kinsman will get $250,000 of the payout, and her lawyers will get the remaining $700,000.* FSU president John Thrasher said in a statement that the university settled to avoid the millions of dollars it would have taken to defend itself in court, though he is “convinced [FSU] would have prevailed.”

But Kinsman would have likely had a good case against the school, which, incidentally or not, appears to work in tandem with the city police for the benefit of its football program. A lawyer for Kinsman said a Tallahassee Police Department detective told her that “Tallahassee was a big football town and the victim needs to think long and hard before proceeding against [Winston] because she will be raked over the coals and her life will be made miserable.” FSU didn’t begin its investigation until nearly two years after Kinsman’s alleged assault and police report, despite the fact that a senior athletics director and the football coach learned of Kinsman’s claims just one month after the fact. A month after that, in February 2013, the police told Winston’s lawyer of the accusations against him, without notifying Kinsman so she could prepare for any backlash. And backlash did come: Kinsman says she left FSU in November 2013 because of campus harassment after the case went public—a textbook symptom of inadequate Title IX protection at the school.

FSU is still under Title IX investigation by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, with whom Kinsman filed a complaint in 2014. Kinsman also filed a civil suit against Winston in April; Winston sued her back for defamation. Those cases are still pending. For now, this settlement should be a hint to other universities that fully equipping Title IX coordinators to investigate their students may be cheaper than paying to protect some of its students over others.

Update, Jan. 26, 2016, 12:54 p.m.: Kinsman’s attorneys have disputed FSU’s breakdown of the payout as reported by the Tampa Bay Times.