PROVIDENCE, R.I. ― Trial began Tuesday in a lawsuit brought against Brown University by a student who was suspended after a sexual encounter that he says was consensual but that a fellow student reported as an assault.
U.S. District Judge William Smith said both sides in the lawsuit agreed to a bench trial in order to get a quicker resolution. The male student, identified in the lawsuit as John Doe, was found responsible for sexually assaulting the female student and suspended in April 2016 for two years.
In the lawsuit, John Doe seeks to be reinstated and to stop Brown from handling complaints using the current process. Brown says the procedure was fair and the hearing panel had a rational basis for its finding.
Universities around the country have faced similar lawsuits from dozens of men who say they were falsely accused amid a push by federal authorities aimed at getting schools to better address sexual assaults on campus.
The encounter happened in November 2014 when John Doe was a sophomore and the female student was a freshman. They knew each other through a campus activity and had met in a campus building to watch a movie together after exchanging often sexually charged texts over a period of days.
John Doe maintains the encounter was consensual, but the woman filed a complaint in October 2015 saying it was not.
She said in her complaint that he tried to kiss her, she turned away and said she did not want to kiss him, then he forcibly penetrated her with his fingers. She said she froze, said she did not want to have sexual intercourse and then said she finally submitted to oral sex out of fear after what she called “coercive badgering.”
“I knew I wasn’t going to be able to leave unless it happened,” she said in her complaint. “I felt I had no choice to avoid being raped.”
In court filings, John Doe’s lawyer disputed that he forced her and said the woman could have easily left because she was got up twice to turn the lights off next to the door but chose to stay.
The complaint triggered a disciplinary process under Title IX, the federal anti-discrimination law.
The school found in the female student’s favor and suspended John Doe on the basis that he sexually assaulted her.
John Doe’s lawyer, J. Richard Ratcliffe, said Tuesday that Brown did not play by its own rules and used a different definition of “consent” than the one that was the policy at the time the encounter happened.
Brown’s lawyer, Steven Richard, said during his opening statement that the case is about the process, the procedure and the role of the university.
“We’re not here to determine which of these students is telling the truth,” Richard added. “We’re here to determine whether Brown breached a contractual obligation.”
Richard said there was no breach.
The trial is expected to last several days.