LYNCHBURG, Va. (CN) – A former Liberty University student and football player accused of rape claims his future and reputation were ruined after the college issued a defamatory statement detailing false allegations brought against him by a female student.
Avery James, who attended the private Christian school Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., before transferring to the University of South Carolina, says in a 37-page complaint filed Thursday in Lynchburg federal court that his problems at the school began in July 2016.
That summer, a female student allegedly accused him and two other football players of raping her at a party.
James claims his accuser didn’t file a complaint immediately, but waited over a year and only after she was dismissed from Liberty for alleged violations of its student conduct policy.
According to his lawsuit, the accusations were “inconsistent with her claim that the encounter was non-consensual,” but the college launched a formal criminal investigation into the misconduct anyway.
Liberty University, like other schools across the nation, has implemented procedures since 2011 outlined in an Obama administration directive that Title IX requires school districts, colleges and university leaders to combat sexual harassment and sexual violence on campus.
James claims Liberty’s procedures for its Title IX investigation trampled his rights from the beginning.
“The policies create an atmosphere whereby women who engage in sexual activity and later claim that activity was unwanted will benefit from a presumption of truth, while accused male students who claim the activity was consensual are not afforded the same presumption, as the policies still punish even consensual sexual activity on campus,” the complaint states.
The school’s Title IX policies force accused male students into an impossible scenario, James claims. He says either the male student is subject to discipline for a nonconsensual contact, or if he claims truthfully that contact was consensual, he’s still open to discipline.
In each scenario, James alleges the process weighs against the accused male student.
A week after his accuser’s claims were filed, James was warned that the investigation into his conduct might affect his transcript at the University of South Carolina, according to the complaint.
He allegedly received notice of the Title IX accusation via email, was interviewed by the Lynchburg Police Department and, by mid-August 2016, was informed by Liberty’s conduct review committee chair that a decision was forthcoming.
The process was humiliating, James says, and he was referred to as “offender” during the conduct committee’s interviews with potential witnesses.
In less than a month, the committee told James it concluded the sex he had with the woman wasn’t consensual, his lawsuit states.
According to the complaint, while his appeal was pending, Liberty published a press release that was covered by “every local television news station in the Lynchburg area.”
The local paper ran a story, it was picked up by the Associated Press and it wasn’t long before the news went national, James says.
The press release allegedly stated, “As a result of the investigation and a hearing held on September 8, 2016 two current students, Cameron Jackson and Kyle Carrington, and one former student, Avery James, were found responsible for violating the Student Honor Code and Liberty University’s Policy on Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Assault.”
James claims the release was defamatory because of the school’s use of the word “hearing,” which “carried the false implication that a formal proceeding had taken place to weigh all the evidence, call witnesses and adjudicate the allegations.”
He says no such hearing took place and the school’s statement also failed to mention that he denied the allegations and appealed them.
James alleges the press release and name-dragging was done to impress Ian McCaw, who recently resigned as athletic director from Baylor University.
According to the lawsuit, McCaw was being recruited to Liberty around the same time his accuser’s allegations emerged. He had resigned after being placed on probation for his part in Baylor’s failure to adequately respond to multiple reports of sexual assault on women by members of the football team there.
In order to look tough on Title IX and impress McCaw, Liberty had to be tough on James, he claims.
James says he presented testimony at his appeal hearing contesting his accuser’s claims and other evidence, including statements from her friends who called her promiscuous and boastful of her “wild night” with James and others.
He says she was on a mission to get back at football players who ignored her and spread rumors about her.
The conduct review committee’s decision was upheld, according to the complaint, and James was told that his transcript would include the note: “Student has been dismissed for a violation of the Liberty Way.” The notation would remain until he applied for its removal in July 2017, the lawsuit states.
“The false accusations have had a devastating effect on Mr. James and his future,” the complaint says.
He claims his family ostracized him and he contemplated suicide after fellow students jeered at him and called him a “predator.” His “once promising academic and athletic career” is over, and his reputation is ruined, he says.
James seeks $100 million in compensatory damages for claims of Title IX violation and defamation. He is represented by Robert E. Dean in Roanoke, Va.
David Corry, general counsel for Liberty University, said in a statement, “Liberty maintains that its disciplinary process is fair, objective, and thorough and it is confident that the remaining claims will also be rejected by the court, in time. Liberty cannot comment on behalf of [James’ accuser] or about her claims.”
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said Thursday that Title IX procedures require a new review.
During a speech at George Mason University, DeVos announced the Education Department would soon begin revamping Title IX protections to address the due process rights of both the accused and the accuser.
The new rules will likely be announced in early October.