Suit filed over UA's sex assault-case ruling

Plaintiff says he was wrongly punished

Posted: September 16, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

FAYETTEVILLE -- A lawsuit filed Friday under a pseudonym claims that a University of Arkansas, Fayetteville student was wrongly sanctioned this year for violating the school's sexual harassment and sexual misconduct policy, stating that UA had a "predetermined" outcome to his case.

A 49-page complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Fayetteville states that the "University summarily refused not only to follow its own Title IX policy, but conducted the subsequent investigation to achieve a predetermined false and unsupported result with deliberate disregard of the consequences to John Doe and the grievous harm that he suffered and continues to suffer to this day."

Title IX is the federal law prohibiting sex-based discrimination at schools that receive federal funding. Federal authorities have said schools must react promptly and effectively to address sexual harassment and sexual violence.

Mark Rushing, a UA spokesman, said it would be inappropriate for the university to discuss pending litigation.

But he remarked generally about the university's approach to students reporting an assault -- known as complainants in conduct cases -- and to the accused, who are known as respondents.

"The university makes every effort to be fair to both complainants and respondents. Our role is an objective one with the realization that no matter the outcome, that most often one side or the other will be disappointed with the result," Rushing said.

According to the lawsuit, "John Doe" was a UA senior when a three-person panel in April found him responsible for sexual assault in violation of UA policy, reversing an earlier ruling by the university's Title IX coordinator.

The lawsuit describes the case as involving whether a woman identified as "Jane Roe" was "intoxicated to the point of incapacitation" during a sexual encounter in October 2017.

The initial finding was that alcohol "had not substantially impacted her decision-making capacity," the lawsuit states.

After her appeal, the panel found "John Doe" responsible, imposing a sanction that required him "to complete Title IX training, ten hours of community service and an online sexual violence accountability course."

After the university's initial decision, "Jane Roe," according to the lawsuit, "began to publicly criticize the University's decision to multiple media outlets and began a widely-followed on-campus protest." The lawsuit describes this as "motivation" to reverse the initial finding.

The lawsuit names as defendants the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; the university system's board of trustees; Tyler R. Farrar, the university's Title IX coordinator; and four others, including members of the UA panel that heard the appeal.

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights opened two separate investigations into UA's handling of student complaints, including one related to a male student's claim that UA mishandled a complaint lodged against him.

Among other lawsuit claims, "John Doe" states that his "due process rights were also violated by the failure of the University to allow him or his representative to cross-examine his accuser."

UA policy 418.1 states that such cross-examination is not allowed during such hearings.

A 2016 lawsuit in which a former UA-Fayetteville student claimed "deliberate indifference" by the university after her rape report remains pending in U.S. District Court.

The suit filed Friday asks for unspecified damages and the reversal of findings against "John Doe," as well as a court-ordered halt to "continued due process violations" in the university's handling of sexual misconduct complaints, according to court documents.

Attorneys for "John Doe" are Heather Zachary and Alec Gaines with Williams & Anderson PLC.

Metro on 09/16/2018