A former UW-Whitewater student sued the University of Wisconsin System this week, alleging university employees failed to protect her and others from the husband of a former chancellor who she said sexually harassed and assaulted them.
Stephanie Goettl Vander Pas, a former student and Whitewater City Council member, first came forward in the fall of 2018 to say she had been harassed by Alan “Pete” Hill, the husband of then-Chancellor Beverly Kopper, over a period of several years. Her statement came just days after the public learned that the System had investigated Hill’s behavior, found the accusations to be of merit and banned him from campus.
Vander Pas argues UW-Whitewater violated Title IX, the federal law intended to protect students and employees from sexual harassment and sexual assault on college campuses. She is seeking an unspecified amount in damages and her attorney, Lisle Blackbourn, declined to comment beyond what’s stated in the complaint.
“Despite UW-Whitewater’s knowledge of Hill’s years-long history of sexual harassment and assaultive behavior, UW-Whitewater failed to take any action, causing the needless exposure of multiple female students and employees to Hill’s sexually harassing and assaultive behavior,” the complaint states.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported on the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee on Tuesday.
System spokesperson Mark Pitsch said Thursday the System does not comment on pending litigation.
The complaint weaves Vander Pas’ story with those of 10 anonymous women, describing a pattern of inappropriate comments, groping, unwanted hugs and unwelcome kisses.
Vander Pas, who was often in Hill’s orbit because of her work on City Council, said Hill slid his hand under her skirt outside an off-campus coffee shop. Another woman said Hill squeezed her knee under the table at least three times during an event where she sat between Hill and Kopper.
Hill denied wrongdoing, according to System records.
The lawsuit also outlines multiple situations in which other employees observed or were told about Hill’s behavior but there is no record of a report being filed.
The System conducted two investigations into Hill’s behavior and took action in June 2018, stripping Hill of his honorary title and banning him from campus. But there was no effort by System or UW-Whitewater to warn students, faculty or staff about his behavior, according to the complaint.
It wasn’t until September of that year — 84 days after Hill was banned from campus — when Kopper informed UW-Whitewater that her husband had been banned.
She sent the email at the same time the System released documents about the Hill investigations to the Journal Sentinel in response to a public records request.
More women came forward and the System opened another investigation, which concluded that at least seven and potentially up to 10 students or employees said they were sexually harassed by Hill.
One woman quit her job and left Whitewater because she felt it was not a “safe space,” the complaint states. Vander Pas dropped out of her master of business administration program.
The most recent investigation found no evidence that Kopper knew of or facilitated Hill’s behavior but also said his conduct appeared to be well known on campus. Kopper’s attorney dismissed the findings as “rampant with speculation.”
Kopper resigned in December 2018, a few months after the scandal was made public but remained on the payroll for another year with the expectation she would return to teaching. During most of that period, she was paid her full chancellor’s salary to prepare for her transition back into the classroom.
Just before she was supposed to start teaching, she was granted a paid medical leave and her classes were reassigned to other instructors. She retired in January 2020.