Second ex-student sues UI over outcome of sex-assault case

Second ex-student sues UI over outcome of sex-assault case

URBANA — Another John Doe is suing the University of Illinois, arguing that his due-process rights were violated after he was punished for allegedly sexually assaulting a woman.

In this case, an MBA student was denied his degree after he graduated last year but before he received his diploma, according to the federal lawsuit filed this week.

A UI review panel concluded that the man went to a woman's apartment, drank with her and had sex with her while she was unable to consent, according to the lawsuit.

Doe, an Indian citizen who now works in Boston, said he faces termination unless he can produce a degree by April 15, which also threatens his immigration status.

His attorney, Cleveland-based Eric F. Long, said he plans to file a motion for a preliminary injunction or emergency temporary restraining order, as there's virtually no chance the case would otherwise be resolved by April 15.

This lawsuit comes after a similar lawsuit was denied last year and as the U.S. Education Department considers new rules to give those accused of sexual misconduct on college campuses more rights.

Earlier this year, University of Illinois officials wrote in a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos that the proposed rules don't fit a university setting and would deter victims from coming forward.

"Federal privacy laws prevent me from commenting on this specific case," UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler said. "But I can tell you that the safety and security of our students is our number-one priority, and we respect the due-process rights of both complainants and respondents in such cases."

In the previous case, a sophomore at the time was dismissed from the UI for two years after he allegedly sexually assaulted a woman.

In that case, a university review panel concluded that after a night of drinking, the man convinced the woman's friend that he could take the woman to her home, and instead took her back to his apartment and had sex with her.

In that case, U.S. District Judge Colin Bruce ruled that Doe wasn't entitled to due process because he didn't prove he had a "legally protected entitlement to his continued education" and that he "failed to identify a property interest at stake."

In this case, Doe's attorney is arguing that the missing MBA degree is Doe's "property interest."

"We're not looking for access to continued education. We're looking for a degree he had already earned," Long said.

Graduates receive an empty folder at the graduation ceremony, Long said, and the diplomas are mailed out later, after exams and other issues are finalized.

In that period of limbo, Doe was notified that he was under investigation for sexual assault.

The alleged assault happened in October 2017 and involved a woman who was also an MBA student.

In his lawsuit, Doe describes some drinking and consensual sex after a night at the movies. The drinks only contained a small amount of vodka, the lawsuit said, and were consumed slowly.

After they began kissing and had another drink, Doe claims he asked if he could touch the woman, was encouraged with "verbal and non-verbal cues," and that she initiated at least one of the sessions of intercourse.

Around 5 a.m., he said he left the bedroom to reheat her lemon water, and when he returned, she "claimed that she had no recollection of the dancing or the sexual encounters, including the sex that occurred approximately fifteen minutes prior."

The woman "repeatedly commented that she had cheated on her boyfriend and told Doe that she had 'messed everything up,'" the lawsuit says. "At no time during the sexual encounter did [the woman] ever tell Doe to stop, or engage in any behavior that would convey her lack of, or inability to, consent."

But the lawsuit also mentions that after finishing one of the drinks after 2 a.m., the woman "vomited a small amount on her clothes and bedsheet," and the UI review panel found that she had not been able to consent.

Doe was dismissed from the UI, according to the lawsuit, and is allowed to apply for reinstatement in 2020.

The lawsuit said Doe appealed the decision, and the Senate Committee on Student Discipline found that university procedures had not been followed and that the panel's conclusion "did not logically support the statement of fact and determination of responsibility."

The senate committee called for another review, so another panel looked into the allegation and found that the woman "was incapacitated during the third sexual encounter and was not able to provide consent," according to the lawsuit.

Doe also appealed this decision, but this time, the senate committee upheld the decision.

He argued that the review-panel process violated his constitutional right to due process, as some witnesses, including the woman's roommate, weren't interviewed, and because he wasn't allowed to attend a hearing to cross-examine witnesses.

Doe "was entitled to (a) process commensurate with the seriousness of the allegations and the potential discipline, sanctions, and repercussions he was facing," the lawsuit says. "The allegations in this matter resulted in a sanction that will have lifelong ramifications for Plaintiff, including loss of his degree, employment and immigration status, and are quasi-criminal in nature."

But in their letter to DeVos, UI officials said they want to avoid "transforming disciplinary proceedings into quasi-courtrooms."

"Not only do we believe this approach will deter survivors from reporting sexual harassment, but it unnecessarily converts an educational disciplinary process into a quasi-courtroom where those who can afford the best advisor will have the advantage," the letter said.

DeVos' proposed rules would let accused students review and respond to all collected evidence and cross-examine their accusers indirectly through a representative.

Schools would also have to investigate complaints only if the alleged incidents occurred on campus or other areas overseen by the school.

The Education Department received more than 100,000 comments on the proposed rules, which aren't expected to be finalized for months.

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