We have previously focused on the rising number of lawsuits by male students against universities over alleged mistreatment in response to claims of sexual assault:

Now Cornell University has been sued, as The Ithaca Voice reports:

A new lawsuit filed Thursday against Cornell claims the university wrongly expelled a male student for what was “clearly consensual” sex.

The former student, a senior at Cornell, was found guilty of sexual misconduct by the university’s judicial system after an encounter with a female student in December 2013, according to the lawsuit. There is no indication criminal charges were ever pursued.

The male student is referred to throughout the lawsuit under the pseudonym “John Doe.” He was expelled in May 2014, shortly before his graduation, and has had his diploma withheld and his reputation “tarnished” as a result, according to the lawsuit.

In a 53-page complaint, the student’s attorneys launch a wide-ranging critique of both Cornell’s handling of the specific case and the overall framework of the university’s judicial system.

The lawsuit also assails the university’s decision in 2013 to lower the burden of proof for sexual assault cases from a “clear and convincing” standard of evidence to the much-lower “preponderance” standard of evidence.

But Cornell failed to administer even this lower standard of evidence fairly, the lawsuit contends.

The Complaint and Motion to Proceed Under Pseudonym are embedded at the bottom of this post.

The Motion has a concise summary of the factual allegations regarding the encounter:

Plaintiff, Jane Doe and Witnesses L.T., M.N., M.V. and V.P. remained in Jane Doe’s apartment for approximately twenty five minutes. They engaged in conversation in Jane Doe’s kitchen, discussing various topics such as their previous sexual experiences. The Witnesses indicated that no member of the group appeared overly intoxicated, to the point of being incapacitated.

At some point during the conversation, Jane Doe removed her bra from under her shirt, in front of the whole group. As she did this, she motioned toward Plaintiff and moved closer to him….

Due to the cold weather and the distance to Plaintiff’s apartment, Jane Doe agreed to let Plaintiff spend the night at her apartment. Jane Doe did not have a couch so it was understood that Plaintiff would sleep in her bed with her. She attributed this hospitality to her German family’s alleged “sailboat community ideals.”

After M.N., M.V., L.T. and V.P. departed, Plaintiff informed Jane Doe that he was interested in her. Plaintiff and Jane Doe began to kiss while standing up. The kissing continued as they moved towards the bed….

Plaintiff and Jane Doe engaged in sexual activity for approximately one hour. Both Plaintiff and Jane Doe were awake and coherent at all times during the sexual activity, communicating non-verbally by touching, stroking and kissing each other.

Jane Doe demonstrated her consent through both words and actions, by actively participating in the sexual activity, stating her willingness to engage in sexual activities up to a certain point, manually manipulating Plaintiff’s penis, removing her own clothing and underwear and continuing to kiss and touch Plaintiff throughout the sexual encounter.

Plaintiff and Jane Doe fell asleep together in Jane Doe’s bed and woke up later that morning around 8:30 a.m. when an alarm clock went off….

The relationship between Plaintiff and Jane Doe did not change after the Incident, as they continued to attend the same classes, sit nearby each other and complete their finals for the winter semester.

On February 18, 2014, more than two (2) months after the sexual encounter, Jane Doe filed a complaint against Plaintiff, alleging that Plaintiff raped Jane Doe on December 14, 2013, while she was incapacitated. A temporary no contact order was put in place on February 24, 2014 and an investigation commenced.

The motion then describes what plaintiff alleges were procedural violations in the handling of the complaint:

A non-exhaustive list of Cornell’s wrongful actions throughout Plaintiff’s disciplinary process include the following: (i) Cornell failed to conduct a timely investigation of the allegations and failed to timely bring the case to a close within sixty (60) days while requiring Plaintiff’s compliance with same; (ii) Cornell failed to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation; (iii) Cornell employed a single-investigator model which resulted in a lack of due process for Plaintiff; (iv) Cornell purported to perform a Blood Alcohol Content analysis to form conclusions that were unsupported and highly prejudicial; (v) Cornell engaged in an investigation biased against the male accused; (vi) Cornell wholly adopted Jane Doe’s unsupportable theory of “sailboat community values” as evidence; (vii) Cornell relied on an investigation consisting of a skewed rendition of the facts, cherry-picked witness statements and ignored important qualifying statements; (viii) Cornell made assessments of credibility and evidentiary weight with respect to each fact witness without any ascertainable rationale or logic; (ix) Cornell failed to afford Plaintiff the requisite presumption of innocence required by a disproportionate in light of the circumstances, all of which demonstrated substantial procedural errors in violation of Title IX.

Ultimately, on May 20, 2014, the hearing panel issued a decision, in which they found Plaintiff responsible for the charges brought by Jane Doe (the “Decision”).

As Plaintiff’s sanction, Cornell initially determined that expulsion was appropriate, and, upon reconsideration, modified Plaintiff’s sanction to withhold his diploma for two (2) years, provided that he meets certain enumerated conditions (the “Sanction”).

We’ll track this case, and keep you informed.


Doe v. Cornell – Complaint

Doe v. Cornell – Motion to Proceed Under Pseudonym