A male student who says he was falsely accused of sexual assault and kicked out of Northwestern University has filed suit against the university, asserting he was discriminated against by university administrators amid a biased investigative process designed only to side with a female accuser he said twisted a consensual sex act into a rape accusation.
On Sept. 12, a male student identified only as John Doe filed his complaint in Chicago federal court against the university, demanding Northwestern reverse its findings and expunge his record, allowing him to resume an academic journey that has been “shattered” by what he says were false accusations brought by a female student angry over a breakup.
John Doe is represented in the action by attorneys with the firms of Carpenter Lipps & Leland LLP, of Chicago, and Conrad O’Brien, of Philadelphia.
“As a result of Northwestern’s actions, John’s academic and professional prospects have been shattered and his economic future has been severely compromised,” the lawsuit asserts. “John’s educational record will permanently reflect that he was excluded from the University for a violation of the Sexual Misconduct Policy, and the University will report his disciplinary record to third parties, including schools to which he has tried to transfer, graduate schools, prospective employers, employers, and licensing agencies.
“Through its deeply unfair Sexual Misconduct Policy, Northwestern has branded John as a sexual offender, making admission as a transfer student to another college or university of the same or similar caliber to Northwestern impossible and severely disadvantaging him in future academic, professional, and career opportunities.”
The lawsuit arrives even as U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has announced the federal government will be backing off policies enacted under former President Barack Obama, designed to compel colleges and universities to rewrite their policies on sexual assault. DeVos and the Trump administration have said those policies created an environment in which male students accused of sexual assault essentially faced stacked investigative and hearing processes in which they had virtually no opportunity to defend themselves.
At Northwestern, John Doe’s lawsuit alleges that is what happened to him.
The case centers on the university’s decision in 2016, which “stripped (Doe) of his ability to continue his education at Northwestern for a minimum of two years, with no guarantee he will ever be re-admitted,” after he was found “responsible” for allegedly forcing a female student, who was his girlfriend at the time, to perform oral sex on him.
That accusation centered on an encounter between the two in March 2015, when John Doe asserts the female student, identified as Jane Doe, performed oral sex on him of her own volition. According to the complaint, she stopped, however, after about one minute, and “John realized she looked unhappy and the sexual activity ended without him climaxing.”
The two then exchanged numerous text messages, according to the complaint, in which John “apologized for being selfish” for asking for sex, and Jane “responded that he wasn’t selfish, she wasn’t angry with him, that it was a general issue of who enjoyed sex more, and they were ‘just different people.’”
The pair eventually broke up, but continued to exchange text messages as friends, the lawsuit says.
However, over the ensuing months, John Doe accused Jane Doe of changing her story to classify their sexual encounter as “borderline sexual assault,” and eventually as “rape.”
John Doe said Jane continued to spread rumors about him around campus, eventually resulting in him being verbally harassed and falsely accused by others on campus, and physically attacked by one of Jane’s friends.
However, when he attempted to report the attack and harassment to campus administrators, he was threatened by an administrator with a sexual assault investigation against him.
The complaint said Jane eventually filed a formal complaint, more than a year after the sexual encounter, and John Doe said university policies then prevented him from defending himself, as they never allowed him to fully hear the accusations and testimony against him, nor to respond to or question his accuser or witnesses, nor to present the numerous text messages he said indicated he was not responsible for the accusations.
Further, he accused a university appellate body of themselves altering the allegations to indicate he was simply responsible for pressuring Jane Doe into performing oral sex
As part of his complaint, John Doe pointed to statistics showing Northwestern and other universities in 2015 and 2016 had sharply increased the number of rapes reported by students, which he said indicated “Northwestern (like other ‘overzealous’ schools across the nation) had embraced a ‘victim-favoring’ process in sexual misconduct cases that intentionally treated female complainants more favorably than accused male students.”
In his lawsuit, John Doe accuses Northwestern of discriminating against him on the basis of sex, in violation of his civil rights under Title IX, defamation, unfair and deceptive practices and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
He has requested compensatory damages and attorney fees, in addition to reversal of the decision and expungement of his record.