DENVER (CN) — A federal judge refused to dismiss most claims from a former Colorado State student who accuses the school of gender bias in suspending him and stripping him of his athletic scholarships after what he calls a false accusation of rape.
Grant Neal sued Colorado State University, Pueblo in April last year on eight causes of action, including breach of contract, breach of faith, violations of Title IX and due process, and procedural matters. The school had suspended him and took away his wrestling and football scholarships.
On Thursday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Craig Shaffer wrote in a 58-page recommendation that the school’s investigation was wrought with “bias and inaccuracy.”
Shaffer recommended allowing six claims to proceed against the CSU board of governors, dismissing all the individual administrators as defendants, dismissing the U.S. Department of Education as a defendant, and giving Neal leave to amend if he can cure the deficiencies.
Neal says he entered into a consensual sexual relationship with another student athlete he was training for an athletic program in 2015. Because relationships between student trainers and trainees were frowned upon, Neal says, he and the unnamed woman kept their relationship a secret.
It wasn’t until a friend of Jane Doe saw a hickey on her neck that the supposed victim described her encounter with Neal to her friend in a way that would “conceal her relationship with plaintiff, while also protecting her position in the program,” the recommendation states.
Neal said in his lawsuit that the “railroaded” him during its misconduct investigation to find him guilty of rape, even though the alleged victim told one CSU official: “Our stories are the same and he’s a good guy. He’s not a rapist, he’s not a criminal, it’s not even worth any of this hoopla.”
Neal claimed his events showed inherent gender bias in the school’s execution of the 2011 “Dear Colleague Letter” from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. The letter was to guide colleges through the process of handling Title IX sexual violence claims.
Neal claimed the Department of Education “aggressively enforced the 2011 DCL [Dear Colleague Letter] in a manner that pressured schools (including CSU-Pueblo) to find male students responsible for sexual misconduct and impose severe sanctions regardless of the evidence,” according to Shaffer’s recommendation.
Shaffer’s recommendation on CSU-Pueblo’s motion to dismiss concluded that the CSU-Pueblo Title IX coordinator, defendant Roosevelt Wilson, failed to take into consideration several important factors, including the woman’s direct statement that she had consensually slept with Neal.
“Wilson’s alleged failures to (among other things) consider that Jane Doe told Wilson the sexual encounter was consensual, the physical or documentary evidence in which she consistently said the same thing, her motivation to not be disciplined by her department for her prohibited relationship with a football player... all suggest bias and inaccuracy in the outcome,” the recommendation states.
Colorado State officials also refused to consider testimony from Neal’s roommate, who claims to have witnessed Neal and Doe having consensual sex after the incident, which, Shaffer wrote, “also suggests bias.”
The Board of Governors is represented by Allison R. Ailer with the Colorado Attorney General's Office, who did not respond to a request for comment.
Shaffer recommended dismissing without prejudice Neal’s claim the federal defendants. Neal accused the Department of Education of improperly enforcing Title IX and violating the Administrative Procedure Act by considering the Dear Colleague letter “legally binding” without putting the document through judicial review. Neal’s complaint said the letter had “draconian consequences for violations,” that caused schools “to brand more students ‘rapists’ based on the excessively low ‘preponderance of the evidence’ burden of proof.”
Shaffer, however, found that the Dear Colleague Letter hadn’t necessarily changed how CSU-Pueblo conducted such investigations.
“CSU-Pueblo already considered sexual misconduct to be a violation of the Code and thus subject to disciplinary proceedings,” the recommendation states. “Plaintiff’s allegations do not support his conclusion that 2011 DCL was a substantial cause of CSU-Pueblo’s use of the preponderance standard in his case.”
Neal damages for injury to reputation, past and future economic losses, loss of educational, athletic and career opportunities, emotional injury and attorneys’ fees. He is represented by Andrew Miltenberg with Nesenoff & Miltenberg in New York city, who praised the ruling.
"We're pleased that the court has recognized the egregious bias that was leveled against Grant Neal in the wrongful sexual misconduct investigation that has effectively destroyed his academic career," Miltenberg said. "We are confident this case will move forward as we continue to pursue justice for Grant."
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