URBANA — U.S. District Judge Colin Bruce has denied an emergency request to grant a University of Illinois MBA degree to a former student accused of sexual assault.
The student filed a federal lawsuit last month arguing his due-process rights had been violated during the UI's investigation and said he faces termination at his job in Boston if he doesn't have his degree by April 15.
The student, an Indian citizen identified only as "John Doe," had also been planning on having his employer sponsor him for his visa, which expires June 30.
He was accused by another MBA student of sexual assault after he graduated in May 2018, but before he had received his degree.
A panel found him responsible for sexual assault, and after two appeals, he was eventually dismissed from the UI.
Bruce denied his emergency request this week, concluding that the lawsuit was improperly filed.
The main problem, Bruce said, is that Doe is suing the UI Board of Trustees as an entity, rather than as individuals.
Under the 11th Amendment to the Constitution, people can't sue a state, though lawsuits against individual state officials are allowed if they're violating federal law.
Bruce also took issue with the proposed remedy of granting Doe an MBA degree.
"Preliminary injunctive relief traditionally takes the form of maintaining the status quo, but here plaintiff asks the court to upend the status quo and, rather than require the university to provide him with a fair hearing, award him his MBA degree, on or before April 1, 2019, no less," Bruce wrote.
He said the most he would have granted would be a new hearing, as Doe is contesting the due process of the UI's hearing process.
"The logical remedy would be a new hearing, not conferral of his degree," Bruce wrote.
Doe's lawyer, Cleveland-based Eric F. Long, said he asked for the degree to be granted because a new hearing process likely wouldn't be completed in time for Doe to avoid termination at his job.
Long said he has only spoken briefly with Doe about the ruling.
"I'm disappointed with the ruling insofar as the impact it has on my client," Long said.
But he remained optimistic about the overall lawsuit, especially considering some of Bruce's other comments.
While Bruce denied the emergency request, he indicated Doe had a decent chance at succeeding in his breach-of-contract claim and in his due-process claim if he had sued the appropriate defendant.
"Based on the parties' contract promising plaintiff due process in any disciplinary hearing ... plaintiff has shown some likelihood of success on his breach of contract claim," Bruce wrote.
He cited his analysis last year in another lawsuit from a student dismissed from the UI after being accused of sexual assault.
"Expulsion procedures must provide a student with a meaningful opportunity to be heard," he wrote at the time.
After a sexual-assault claim is made at the UI, investigators investigate and write a report, which a hearing panel uses to make a decision.
While the UI now allows the accused and the accuser to present their case at a hearing, this policy was not yet in place when Doe was accused.
But while Bruce said Doe's due-process and breach-of-contract claims have potential, he said that based on the facts of the case known so far, Doe's gender-discrimination argument doesn't.
Doe failed to present any evidence to show "the outcome of his case was erroneous," Bruce wrote.
In Doe's case, a panel determined that he went to a fellow MBA student's apartment, drank with her and had sex with her three times while she was unable to consent.
Doe appealed this, and a committee found that the panel didn't explain its rationale for the first two sexual encounters.
Another panel then determined that the woman was incapacitated during the third encounter, but didn't have enough evidence for the first two.
"Plaintiff acknowledged that the alleged victim became drunk and confirmed that at one point she began to cry and get emotional. The facts plaintiff alleges regarding the instance of sexual contact that was ultimately deemed to violate the code show that the alleged victim consumed a quantity of alcohol, vomited, fell asleep, regained consciousness, and thereafter plaintiff, knowing these facts, engaged in sexual intercourse with her," Bruce wrote. "These facts, taken in context with all the other facts alleged in the complaint, do not demonstrate a likelihood of success on plaintiff's claim that the university's outcome was erroneous."
Bruce also said Doe failed to show gender bias against men on the university's part, as Doe had argued.
"These vague, conclusory and factually unsupported allegations of a general bias on the part of the university are insufficient to support a likelihood of success on plaintiff's claim that gender bias was a motivating factor behind the alleged erroneous finding in plaintiff's case," Bruce wrote.