Lanier Law Group, along with co-counsel Gloria Allred, filed a second lawsuit against the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) on behalf of 39 former high school students who were sexually abused by UNCSA faculty and staff. The Winston-Salem Journal interviewed Attorney Lisa Lanier, president and CEO of Lanier Law Group, about this historic case.
On September 29, 2021, Lanier Law Group filed the first child sex abuse lawsuit against UNCSA on behalf of 7 survivors. The case attracted the attention of the media, empowering other former UNCSA students to come forward and share their stories.
“The bravery of these additional victims coming forward has resulted in our filing of a second lawsuit today that names 39 former UNCSA high school students who were victims of sexual abuse and exploitation while attending the school,” Attorney Lanier said.
The second lawsuit was formally filed November 29, 2021 in Forsyth Superior Court. The 39 students named in the suit attended UNCSA between 1969 and 2012. UNCSA was founded in 1963.
“The complaint alleges that the institutional betrayal of its students by UNCSA was schoolwide, and it existed in the music department, the dance department, the visual arts department, the drama department and even among the residence hall and security staff,” Attorney Lanier told reporters for the Winston-Salem Journal.
In the lawsuit, the 39 plaintiffs bravely delve into the trauma they endured. They allege that they were subjected to inappropriate touches and crude sexual comments by faculty members—sometimes, right in the classroom. Sadly, the allegations don’t stop there. Many of these survivors were coerced into sexual relationships, emotionally abused, and/or physically abused by renowned faculty members.
At the time, these students were young teenagers.
All the students named in the suit were recruited into UNCSA to study the arts. They were promptly groomed to think that, as the Winston-Salem Journal put it, “sexual exploitation was normal and necessary for them to become successful artistic performers.”
In no uncertain terms, these high school students were each told that any chance they had at a career would be ruined if they spoke up about their abuse.
“Despite the clear obligation to the boys and girls who chose to attend the school,” the lawsuit alleges, “UNCSA and the Defendant Administrators instead permitted, participated in, encouraged, allowed, perpetuated and/or condoned the development of a culture of sexual abuse and exploitation of the young students in their care.”
The lawsuit further alleges that this culture of rampant sexual abuse continued for at least 30 years, harming “potentially hundreds of students.”
Just some of the 24 former faculty members and administrators named in the lawsuit are dance instructors Richard Kuch and Richard Gain; music instructors Joseph Robinson, Bruce Moss, and Phillip Dunigan; violin professor Stephen Shipps; ballerina and dance teacher Melissa Hayden and her husband Don Coleman; ballet professor Gyula Pandi; chancellors Wade Hobgood and John Mauceri; and interim chancellor Gretchen Bataille.
The institution itself is also named as a defendant.
According to the lawsuit, many of the 39 survivors were driven to drug addiction and suicide because of their experiences at UNCSA. They have spent years trying to heal from their trauma with the help of professional counselors.
To read more about Lanier Law Group’s lawsuit against UNCSA, read the full article in the Winston-Salem Journal here.
Pursuing Justice for Child Sex Abuse Survivors Under the SAFE Child Act
Although many of the plaintiffs in the UNCSA child sex abuse lawsuit were previously barred from filing claims due to expired legal deadlines, the SAFE Child Act has given them a second chance to do so. The deadline to file a claim under the SAFE Child Act’s lookback window is December 31, 2021.
If you have been the victim of abuse at UNCSA, we encourage you to reach out to Lanier Law Group. We know trauma like this is difficult to talk about, which is why we take a compassionate approach to legal counsel. We want to make it clear that there is a group of survivors here to support and empower you.
When you want to come forward with your story, we are here to help. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, no strings attached, please call (855) 757-4204.