Title IX / College Discipline Practice - Warshaw Burstein LLP | Kimberly C. Lau and Warshaw Burstein Team Obtain $5.3mm Jury Verdict Against Defendants for Defamation and Civil Conspiracy
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Kimberly C. Lau and Warshaw Burstein Team Obtain $5.3mm Jury Verdict Against Defendants for Defamation and Civil Conspiracy

Warshaw Burstein, LLP, a full-service law firm in New York City, announced that Kimberly C. Lau, partner and chair of the firm’s Title IX and College Discipline Practice, and her team obtained a unanimous jury verdict on their client’s, Andrew Pampu, defamation and civil conspiracy claims against defendants resulting in an award of $5.3mm following a week-long jury trial in South Carolina.

James E. Figliozzi, Counsel, second-chaired the trial. Chad Graham served as local counsel.

This was one of the largest verdicts in the area for such causes of action involving a private individual plaintiff. Ms. Lau’s trial win came after nearly five years of litigation, which included depositions of 23 witnesses, approximately 10,000 pages of document discovery, 14 discovery motions, a writ to the Supreme Court of South Carolina that ended the state’s longstanding practice of allowing special referees to decide discovery motions who were without jurisdiction to do so, and a successful outcome on all seven motions in limine filed before trial.

“The jury verdict represents more than an exoneration for my client who has endured reputational harm, educational barriers, and the deprivation of hard-earned career opportunities due to defendants’ defamatory statements,” Ms. Lau said. “The jury sent a message to others that our society does not condone spreading harmful lies about someone else to ruin someone’s reputation and deprive him of future opportunities. Not only does this kind of behavior cause irreparable damage to the wrongfully accused, it represents a setback for true rape victims to come forward and be believed in the future.”

Mr. Pampu said, “When I received the verdict, I was overwhelmed with emotion and incredibly relieved. For seven long years, I carried a burden of accountability that was not mine to bear. Consequently, my family battled through the process with me every step of the way. By the Grace of God and with the support of my loving family and counsel, I was somehow able to persevere throughout the adversity and fight for the truth. I feel incredibly thankful for all members of the jury in Pickens, South Carolina, who chose to end this nightmare for me. I hope that the favorable verdict gives hope to many other young men who are in a position, similar to mine.”

Brief overview of the case

The defamation and civil conspiracy claims arose from a consensual sexual encounter between two Clemson University students, plaintiff Andrew Pampu and defendant Erin Wingo in October 2015. Ms. Wingo falsely characterized the sexual encounter as rape due to her alleged alcohol-induced incapacitation. However, the evidence showed that Ms. Wingo was not "incapacitated" at the time of the encounter, nor did she forget the incident.

In fact, Ms. Wingo’s claimed lack of memory only occurred after she was confronted by her then-boyfriend, defendant Colin J. Gahagan, who had learned about the sexual encounter from a fraternity group chat. After telling Mr. Gahagan that she did not remember the encounter due to being incapacitated, Mr. Gahagan insisted that "if you don’t remember, then it’s rape."

From that point on, the two Clemson students, together with Ms. Wingo’s father, defamed Mr. Pampu to at least 20 individuals and conspired to get Mr. Pampu removed from Clemson University and his fraternity. Defendants’ collective plan worked, and Mr. Pampu was suspended from Clemson University and removed from his fraternity in 2016. Then, in January 2017, Mr. Gahagan texted Mr. Pampu and admitted that he conspired with Ms. Wingo to pursue a false claim of rape against Plaintiff: "You're innocent. I lied in that hearing. Erin wanted to have sex that night."

During the week-long trial ending March 25, 10 witnesses, two of whom were experts, all proved that Ms. Wingo did not, in fact, consume enough alcohol to render her so intoxicated that she could not have consented. Additionally, the documentary evidence was overwhelming and provided a roadmap of the defendants’ common plan against Mr. Pampu. All of the evidence pointed to the fact that defendants defamed Mr. Pampu and conspired against him.

In 2019, Ms. Lau finalized plaintiff’s settlement with Clemson University to resolve plaintiff’s claims against the University for violations of Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972 and the Fourteenth Amendment of the Due Process Clause, including other related state causes of action in a separate federal lawsuit. The University was required to remove the disciplinary notation from plaintiff’s transcript and make a monetary payment to plaintiff for his damages.

Warshaw Burstein, LLP is a full-service law firm in New York City which has distinguished itself through superior and cost-effective legal service and personalized client care and attention. For more information, please visit www.wbny.com, or visit us on LinkedIn, and on Twitter @warshawburstein.