The Daily Northwestern

Hearing set after former student sues University, claiming ‘grievous mishandling’ of sexual assault investigation excluded him from NU

Scott Hall houses the Office of Student Conduct. A former Northwestern student filed a lawsuit against the University in September, alleging his exclusion from NU resulted from a “grievous mishandling” of a sexual assault investigation against him.

Scott Hall houses the Office of Student Conduct. A former Northwestern student filed a lawsuit against the University in September, alleging his exclusion from NU resulted from a “grievous mishandling” of a sexual assault investigation against him.

Brian Meng/The Daily Northwestern

Brian Meng/The Daily Northwestern

Scott Hall houses the Office of Student Conduct. A former Northwestern student filed a lawsuit against the University in September, alleging his exclusion from NU resulted from a “grievous mishandling” of a sexual assault investigation against him.

Erica Snow, Campus Editor

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A former Northwestern student is suing the University after a “grievous mishandling” of an investigation following sexual assault allegations against him, according to a copy of the lawsuit obtained by The Daily.

The former student sued the University in September under the pseudonym John Doe, alleging NU’s sexual misconduct policy and hearing process “reflected the University’s intentional, institutionalized gender bias,” the lawsuit claims.

A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 11, according to a copy of a docket entry obtained by The Daily.

The investigation resulted in the male student being excluded from NU, according to the lawsuit. Exclusion consists of a separation from the university for a minimum of two years and requires students to reapply for admission and receive approval from Patricia Telles-Irvin, vice president for student affairs.

Telles-Irvin declined to comment for this story.

The September lawsuit details an alleged sexual interaction between Doe and his then-girlfriend, referred to as Jane Roe. At the time, Doe was a freshman and Roe was a sophomore, the suit says. The lawsuit alleges that in March 2015, Roe consented to giving Doe oral sex “through her words and actions.”

According to the lawsuit, however, Roe alleged during a subsequent investigation that the incident had been a “forcible rape” and that Doe “jabbed and forced his penis into her mouth, thrust it back and forth, choking her, stopped after one minute, and then left.”

Jonathan Cyrluk, an attorney representing Doe, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Adam Hoeflich, an attorney representing NU, declined to comment.

University spokesman Bob Rowley said NU does not comment on pending litigation. In a statement, the University said it is monitoring existing state laws and potential changes to federal guidelines on Title IX.

“Northwestern continues to be committed to fostering an environment in which all members of the campus community are safe, secure, and free from sexual misconduct of any form,” the statement said. “Sexual misconduct violates the community values and principles of our institution and disrupts the living, learning and working environment for students, faculty, staff and other community members.”

Shortly after the March 2015 incident, Doe broke up with his girlfriend at a party in front of their friends, the lawsuit claims. Doe alleges in the suit that Roe made up a false rape accusation after the breakup.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, a review of research showed the prevalence of false reporting of sexual assault is between 2 percent and 10 percent.

One month later, the lawsuit alleges, Roe texted Doe “that their ‘last time’ having sex was ‘borderline sexual assault,’” which Doe immediately denied. The text came amid “chatty” text messages discussing “Game of Thrones” and other mundane topics, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges Roe “repeatedly sought out” Doe for relationship advice after her first accusation.

She later texted him on Sept. 22, 2015, claiming the March incident was sexual assault, according to the lawsuit. The text came amid other messages in which Roe was “pleasant” to Doe, the suit claims.

In late September, Doe alleged that one of Roe’s sorority sisters screamed curses at him at a football game, shouted he was a “‘sexual assault perpetrator,’ and grabbed for his throat attempting to choke him,” according to the lawsuit. When Doe reported the incident to Tara Sullivan, then-director of the Office of Student Conduct and deputy Title IX coordinator, he was told that if he filed a complaint, the office would open an investigation against him due to the sexual assault claim, according to the lawsuit.

Sullivan, who left NU in late 2016, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Lucas Christain, current director of the Office of Student Conduct, declined to comment.

According to the lawsuit, when Doe’s parents told Dean of Students Todd Adams about the incident at the football game, “the University did nothing.”

Adams declined to comment for this story.

The lawsuit details a “final rift” in October 2015, when Roe allegedly asked Doe to lie to a professor so he could miss class and help with their student group’s membership tryouts, but Doe refused. The lawsuit claims Roe then texted Doe on Oct. 14, calling the March incident rape and demanding he take a leave of absence from their group. According to the suit, he did, feeling “falsely accused and unfairly treated.”

The suit claims Roe’s accusation spread among their group until it eventually reached the Office of Student Conduct.

Doe said in the suit he was deterred from reporting the alleged physical assault with Roe’s sorority sister because Sullivan “indirectly but clearly communicated” to him that he would be charged with retaliation in addition to sexual assault and harassment.

His lawsuit criticizes the University’s single-investigator hearing process in which a Title IX investigator interviews both parties separately and presents findings to a panel. The complainant and the respondent also speak with the panel, which weighs statements made by all parties.

According to the lawsuit, the investigator and the panel “relied solely on Jane’s word” and her “cherry-picked” evidence to rule in her favor while applying a “double standard” and discounting Doe’s evidence.

“This deliberate skewing of the evidence by the investigator and Hearing Panel violated both the University’s contractual obligations to conduct a fair and impartial process and Title IX’s prohibition against disparate treatment based on gender,” the lawsuit claims.

Joan Slavin, NU’s Title IX coordinator at the time, declined to comment for this story. Dwight Hamilton, associate vice president for equity and current Title IX coordinator, deferred comment to University spokesman Al Cubbage, who declined to comment due to pending litigation.

The University said in its statement that NU’s policy on sexual misconduct handles complaints “in a manner that is prompt, fair, and impartial.”

Following the hearing panel’s decision to exclude Doe for two years, he appealed to an Appellate Panel. The body rejected the initial finding of forcible rape, but still found Doe responsible for sexual assault stemming from “‘emotional and verbal coercion,’” according to the lawsuit. But the suit claims Roe never accused him of those things.

Since his exclusion, Doe has been rejected from 11 schools after “Northwestern has branded John as a sexual offender,” the lawsuit claims. He has also experienced “severe emotional and physical distress,” including expressing “a desire to kill himself,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, requests that the court grant injunctive relief by ordering the University to reverse and expunge its findings. The lawsuit also requests that the court order NU to award compensatory damages and pay attorney fees, among other demands.

Twitter: @ericasnoww