A former University of Minnesota student has won a $137,500 settlement of her lawsuit alleging that she was raped by an interpreter on a university-affiliated trip to Cuba in 2014, then mistreated by a school adviser afterward.
The U admitted no wrongdoing in the agreement, which was reached in December 2017. The former student, who has since graduated, received $82,500 from the settlement and her lawyer, Natalie Feidt, received $55,000.
The student’s lawsuit, filed in 2016, alleged intentional infliction of emotional distress by trip chaperone Melisa Riviere. The complaint also alleged negligence by the U in both training and supervision of the trip through the Minnesota SPAN (Student Project for Amity among Nations) Association.
While on the trip to Cuba on Aug. 3, 2014, according to the suit, the female student met with a man identified in the complaint only as Marcel, an interpreter and guide hired to help the students.
The suit said the student planned to interview Marcel and view residential structures in Havana, and met Marcel at 9:30 p.m. at the hotel so they could walk through neighborhoods and talk about living conditions.
Marcel offered to take the student to see his home as part of her research. After showing her his bedroom in the home he shared with his mother, Marcel closed the door, “entrapping” the student, sexually assaulting and raping her several times. The student returned to her hotel room at 3:30 a.m. and cried in her bed until her roommate took her to see Riviere.
According to the suit, Riviere told the student she needed to report the assault to Centro de Estudios Martianos (CEM), a program working with the U.S. students, but that first she had to prepare.
The student waited in her room all day until Riviere finally returned and “scolded” her, according to the suit, telling her that “Marcel picked the right student to do this to because any other student would have known better than to put themselves in the situation.”
By the time the student spoke with the CEM director, Marcel had already reported his version of the assault. Later, it was discussed that Marcel would be terminated for “consensual sex” with a student, the lawsuit said.
As the meeting ended, the student asked to be taken to the hospital because of stomach and vaginal pain. But Riviere told her that she couldn’t go until she pressed charges against Marcel. Riviere later took the student to the police station in the same taxi with Marcel.
But the student didn’t press charges because she would have had to stay in Cuba for weeks to do so, the suit said. She never did receive medical treatment in Cuba.
Upon returning to Minnesota, she attempted to contact Riviere who had offered to help her receive counseling, but got no response. The student also reported the incident to student affairs officials that fall, but failed to get counseling. The U didn’t complete its investigation until April 2015, the lawsuit said.
University officials declined to comment on the case, citing privacy laws regarding students. A spokesman said Riviere worked for the U from 1996 to 2016 in a variety of short-term graduate and temporary positions. The Cuba trip was part of a two-month job for which she was paid $1,300, the spokesman said.
Neither Riviere, who now works outside the U.S., nor Feidt responded to attempts to contact them.
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747 Twitter: @rochelleolson