Student Claims Gender Bias in Sex-Assault Probe

CLEVELAND (CN) – A student claims Case Western Reserve University suspended him for three years and kicked him out of his dorm based on false allegations of sexual assault that were not supported by factual evidence.

John Doe claims in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Cleveland federal court that the university failed to follow its own disciplinary guidelines, discriminated against him because he is a male student, and refused to allow him to review witness testimony prior to his disciplinary hearing.

The anonymous student says the investigation arose in September 2014 after he engaged in consensual sexual activity with Jane Doe, his then-girlfriend.

Although she had told him she wanted to spend some time apart, Jane allegedly asked to spend the night at Doe’s fraternity house following a party on Sept. 13.

Doe says the two went into the basement after she told him she wanted to sleep with him, and they began kissing, which led to digital penetration and oral sex on his part, the lawsuit states.

According to the complaint, “Jane Doe did not provide oral sex to John Doe, nor did John Doe ever attempt to have vaginal intercourse with Jane Doe.”

At the end of the encounter, the complaint states, “Jane Doe suddenly pushed John Doe away … got up from the couch and began to cry.”

Doe says he drove the girl back to her dorm, and that the two “went for a drive to a nearby lake” the next day, where she “said she wanted to take a break from being together so often.”

Several months later, she reportedly spoke to the Cleveland university’s then-Title IX coordinator, defendant Shannon Greybar Milliken, who initiated an investigation into the alleged sexual misconduct.

The plaintiff says he received a “no contact directive with respect to Jane Doe” two weeks later, and was forced to schedule an appointment with Milliken.

“Without receiving a notice of investigation, a discussion of his rights and responsibilities or the CWRU policies and procedures, and without an advisor or support person to accompany him, John Doe was blindsided when he arrived to attend a mandatory meeting with the CWRU Title IX investigator,” the complaint states.

Doe says he told Milliken he was suffering from “depression based aphasia” and had difficulty speaking, but she “did not stop the interview, nor did she suggest contacting disability services or support services to provide accommodations for John Doe.”

Milliken also gave him a chart that outlined the university’s disciplinary process when dealing with sexual assault allegations, according to the lawsuit.

After returning from Christmas break, the plaintiff says he met with Milliken for a second time, and was told “they would be ‘skipping’ most of the chart, as all steps were not necessary in this case.”

A formal investigation began in February 2015, during which time 14 witnesses were interviewed by Milliken, although “John Doe was not permitted to review the witness statements or to provide responses thereto at any point prior to the hearing,” the complaint states.

Doe’s hearing was held on Feb. 25 and he was punished two days later. Case Western “sanctioned John Doe to two years of suspension, status of persona non grata, no contact order with the complainant, and permanent ban from residing in university housing,” according to the lawsuit.

He appealed the decision, but “the following day, [he] received a letter informing him that the sanctions, including suspension, had been increased from two years to three years, through May 2018,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit – which names Case Western Reserve University, its board of trustees and several school officials as defendants – says numerous guidelines were violated during the investigation.

Doe says the school lied about having received a written statement, which he never provided.

“Incredibly, there were witnesses interviewed on the day of the hearing … and one was interviewed the day after the hearing. These interviews were included in the investigation report for the hearing administrator and the appeals board to consider when making their determinations, even though John Doe never had an opportunity to review or challenge these witness statements,” he claims.

The complaint also says the school discriminated against Doe and presumed guilt because he is a male student.

“For instance, although both parties were admittedly intoxicated at the time of the sexual encounter, the CWRU defendants failed to consider the effect of John Doe’s intoxication on his ability to affirmatively consent to the physical contact initiated by Jane Doe,” the lawsuit states. “The CWRU defendants also demonstrated a gender bias against John Doe as the male student accused of sexual misconduct when they found Jane Doe to be more credible despite her inconsistent and varying accounts of the event.”

Doe says the burden of proof was improperly placed on his shoulders, and that “investigators intentionally overlooked any evidence tending to diminish Jane Doe’s credibility … [and] from the outset, [he] was presumed guilty, while Jane Doe was characterized as the ‘victim’.”

The plaintiff seeks damages for alleged Title IX and due-process violations, breach of contract and negligence. He is represented by Stephen Bales of Ziegler Metzger in Cleveland.

The individual defendants in the case include Milliken; University President Barbara Snyder; Vice President for Student Affairs Lou Stark; Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Dean Patterson Jr.; Student Conduct Director George O’Connell; and investigator Lauren Tompkins.

A Case Western spokesperson said the university does not comment on pending litigation.

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