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College Student Suspended for Sexual Harassment Sues School

MONTPELIER, Vt. — A male student who was suspended from the University of Vermont this fall after being accused of groping a female student at an off-campus party has sued the school, saying he didn’t grope the student and the school’s faulty disciplinary system is biased against men.

The lawsuit, which refers to the students as Jane and John Doe, said the case is a perfect example of a failed system of campus sexual assault enforcement highlighted by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

“In the face of Jane Doe’s criticism that UVM was not doing enough for female students, the University’s administrators chose to make an example of John Doe, even though there was no evidence to support it, or corroborate, Jane Doe’s false allegations against him,” the student’s lawyers said in the lawsuit filed this month.

The University of Vermont said Monday it’s confident it has acted appropriately.

“The University is committed to eliminating, preventing, and addressing the effects of sexual harassment and misconduct, and to providing a fair and impartial process for investigation and adjudication of reported incidents as outlined in the University’s Sexual Harassment and Misconduct Policy,” it said in a statement.

Other schools have faced legal fights from male students who say they were unfairly suspended or punished. The general counsel for Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, said last year that at least 75 men had sued the school since 2013, complaining of reverse discrimination and unfair disciplinary proceedings.

In September, the Trump administration rolled back Obama-era guidance on investigating college sexual assaults. DeVos said the policy had been unfairly skewed against those accused of assault. DeVos’ interim guidelines allow universities handling complaints to use a “clear and convincing evidence” standard, which is harder to meet than the standard in the Obama guidance. Women’s rights groups say the harder standard will discourage reporting of sexual assaults.

In the University of Vermont case, a female student reported that a male student groped her as they danced at a rugby party on April 28, 2017.

The lawsuit says she identified the male student by a nickname. Based on information, belief and an “incorrect assumption” the university found a picture of John Doe on Facebook, showed it to the female student and asked if he was the alleged perpetrator, the lawsuit says. She said the person in the picture was the student who groped her, according to the suit.

The male student told a University of Vermont investigator that he was at the party with his girlfriend and. He said he had never met or danced with the female student and noted that he could not imagine touching a woman without her consent, the lawsuit says.

The suit says a friend of Jane Doe said she attended the party with her and Jane Doe’s boyfriend but did not mention that Jane Doe had been groped. The friend said Jane Doe was dancing with someone “creepy,” the lawsuit says.

The suit also says the university allowed its Title IX coordinator to investigate the case. The Title IX coordinator “clearly has a conflict of interest,” the suit contends.

“Jane Doe’s false accusations against John Doe were accepted as fact and upheld by Defendants using a Kafkaesque process that denied John Doe due process of law in violation of due process,” the lawsuit says.

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