A University of St. Thomas student was not charged in a sexual encounter with a fellow freshman in her dorm room, but the private Catholic school, after its own investigation, suspended him for more than a year.
Now the student is suing.
The suit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in St. Paul, alleges that the male student was subjected to “a rigged and unfair disciplinary process put in place to reach a predetermined result … in violation of both state and federal law.”
The school denies the allegations and says it adheres to a different standard of evidence than in a criminal prosecution. In a statement issued Monday, St. Thomas said it is legally required to investigate sexual harassment and assault claims made by students, and emphasized that its investigations are “thorough and impartial.”
St. Thomas filed an emergency motion Monday to delete and seal some of the allegations in the student’s complaint. The university wants the student to be ordered to destroy private medical reports by a sexual-assault nurse examiner for the student who alleged she was raped. Those reports “are improperly in his possession” and he should be sanctioned for obtaining them, the motion said.
The school wants to seal some allegations the male student made in the complaint that refer to the medical records.
The student’s suspension starts at this semester’s end until February 2018. Such a punishment, the student’s legal action notes, will remain on his academic record.
This case comes amid a growing debate in Minnesota and nationwide over sexual assault on campus. Colleges and universities — which are required by law to investigate such incidents — are finding themselves criticized by both sides. Administrators are catching heat for going too easy on suspected perpetrators, or for running roughshod over the rights of the accused.
In February, a male student sued Macalester College in St. Paul after it launched a sexual assault investigation against him. He claimed the process “lacks even the most rudimentary due process protections for the accused.” Macalester denied the charges. The student dropped the lawsuit and quit college a month later.
At St. Olaf College in Northfield, student Madeline Wilson raised eyebrows with her T-shirt: “Ask me how my college is protecting my rapist.” Wilson said she was raped by another student in a dorm last May. She said the school cleared him in a campus investigation that she believes was deeply flawed.
The suit against St. Thomas, filed with accompanying St. Paul police reports and correspondence between defense attorney Beau McGraw, the plaintiff and university officials, goes into explicit detail about how the encounter played out between the two identified in the suit as John Doe and Jane Doe:
The two acquaintances met at a dorm party in Brady Hall on the evening of Dec. 11. Both had several drinks. They soon were holding hands and rubbing each others’ backs. John asked Jane whether she wanted to make out, and she replied “maybe later.”
They went with others to an off-campus house party, kissed in the backyard and then walked to a lounge in the campus dorm where Jane lives. She straddled him and started unbuttoning his shirt, according to John Doe’s court filings. Later, he alleged, she fondled him, which he took as a “clear indication of her consent” and he penetrated her digitally. John asked her to go further, but she declined. The two parted about 1:30 a.m.
The next evening, Jane went to Regions Hospital in St. Paul and said she had been sexually assaulted during what she called a brief encounter.
She said he tried to force her to perform oral sex, but she said no, according to the police report.
Two days later, she spelled out roughly the same scenario to police.
Police referred to the video from the lounge area and asked Jane why she hadn’t said the two held hands and kissed that evening. She apologized for leaving that out but insisted that the attack occurred.
John was arrested that week on suspicion of first-degree criminal sexual conduct but was quickly released once the decision was made not to charge him criminally.
In early January, John’s attorney provided St. Thomas’ lawyers with audio recordings from several people who saw his client and Jane flirting and kissing that night, as well as a photograph, taken while in jail, of wounds John said were left on his body by Jane.
McGraw notified the university that police “concluded that no crime was committed by my client and closed their investigation,” and a letter from the Ramsey County attorney’s office to police confirmed there was “insufficient evidence to support victim’s report of nonconsensual/forced sexual contact.”
St. Thomas pressed ahead with its own investigation and notified John in a Feb. 10 letter that he committed “nonconsensual sexual intercourse” and was suspended starting Feb. 13 until the start of the 2017-18 school year.
The suspension was set aside, however, as John appealed. He told a top school official that, among other things, St. Thomas “is desperately grasping for evidence to support an unsupportable finding.”
The appeal was denied by Karen Lange, the school’s vice president for student affairs. Lange explained in a letter to John on April 12 that he acknowledged Jane “never told me to stop” verbally or physically.
However, “our policy clearly states that silence or failing to resist a sex act does not constitute consent,” Lange’s letter said. “There were no words or conduct by the complainant that indicated freely given consent” to the sexual activity, Lange continued.
John’s suspension starts at the end of this semester and lasts through the 2016-17 school year and until the start of the spring semester in February 2018.
McGraw declined to say whether his client will return to St. Thomas once the suspension ends.