Male student sues UO over handling of sexual assault investigation
A University of Oregon student sued the school in federal court Monday, alleging that UO violated his due process rights and discriminated against him based on gender when he was accused of sexual assault in February 2016.
UO suspended the student after a female friend with whom he had had a past sexual relationship accused him of groping and kissing her while she was passed out drunk in his dorm room.
The incident occurred after the alleged victim, identified as Jane Roe in court documents, texted the male student (John Doe) asking for help because she was worried she might choke on her own vomit. John Doe lived two floors above her in Hamilton Hall, and she went up to his room where she fell asleep and says she was assaulted.
At 3:24 a.m., she texted her ex-boyfriend, “Just for documentation, can you make it known I was almost raped tonight?”
John Doe asserts that this accusation is false and the two did not have sexual contact that night.
Doe told investigators he was not interested in having sexual contact with the accuser because he believed she had herpes, and that she may have made the accusation to get attention from her ex-boyfriend.
UO Title IX investigator Carol Millie carried out a student conduct investigation that ultimately found the male student responsible for the assault, and suspended him from UO for one year. The accused student learned of his suspension on June 29, 2016.
But the accused student and his lawyer filed a challenge to the suspension in Lane County circuit court last September, and in December 2016 a judge ruled that the suspension should be overturned because the university had violated its own procedures during the course of the investigation.
The judge found that Millie violated school policy by considering evidence that was submitted late without allowing John Doe to respond, failing to provide John Doe full access to the record because Millie conducted undocumented interviews with Jane Roe and citing an expert opinion in her final decision on the case that John Doe did not get a chance to respond to.
A central issue to the student conduct investigation was a screenshot of iMessages between John Doe and Jane Roe the day after the alleged assault, in which John Doe appears to apologize for his behavior the night before.
Jane Roe says she deleted the original messages from her phone, and John Doe had an expert witness testify that it is impossible to determine the authenticity of screenshotted iMessages, because they can be manipulated by changing contact names and phone time settings.
UO appealed the judge’s decision to overturn John Doe’s suspension, but the appeal was denied in May 2017.
Represented by Portland lawyer Janet Hoffman, John Doe is now suing UO, Millie, Student Conduct Director Sandy Weintraub and former Vice President for Student Life Robin Holmes. He is seeking an undisclosed amount of money in damages for emotional distress, damage to his academic performance, damage to his reputation and attorney fees that he says he incurred as a result of UO’s investigation and his subsequent suspension.
“The University — concerned about the recent national and local attention focusing on the treatment of sexual assault complaints on college campuses—responded to Jane Roe’s accusations through arbitrary, discriminatory and illegal actions designed to reach a predetermined outcome, namely, John Doe’s suspension from the University,” the complaint alleges.
Hoffman has represented several high profile clients, including former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and current Seattle Mayor Ed Murray. She did not immediately return an email request for comment.
UO released the following statement in response to the lawsuit: “The university is dedicated to providing a student conduct process that is fair, neutral and compassionate to all of our students, complainants and respondents. To that end, the university seeks to ensure its processes are fair and equitable to all persons involved. The professionals in our conduct office acted in good faith in carrying out our collective responsibility to protect the safety of the campus. Accordingly, we will address the plaintiff’s allegation in the court proceedings.”
The full legal complaint can be viewed here.
Follow Jack Pitcher on Twitter @jackpitcher20 .
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