Due Process

Carleton College Suspended a Student for Drunken Sex. He Appealed. Then They Expelled Him.

His lawsuit claims the campus's procedures made a mockery of due process.


Should continuing to assert your innocence be seen as a sign of guilt? After issuing a three-semester suspension to football player "John Doe" for sexual assault, Carleton College in Minnesota gave him the option of appealing the verdict. He did so, to no avail.

Then the dean of students wrote to Doe that "the fact you continue to assert that it was okay to engage in sexual activity with a person in [Jane Doe's] condition is deeply troubling." John's suspension was upgraded to a permanent expulsion.

That's just one of many troubling claims made in Doe's lawsuit against Carleton College, which was filed in U.S. District Court earlier this month. John alleges that investigators violated his due process rights, ignored evidence that undercut his accuser's claims, and evinced bias against him at all stages of the process.

The lawsuit stems from the events of April 28, 2017, when John, Jane, and many other students received invitations to join a secret society. They were told to meet at a specific place on campus at 2:00 a.m., where the members of the society instructed them to consume copious amounts of alcohol and then cover the president's house in toilet paper. On the way to the house, the lawsuit claims, Jane stopped John, whom she had just met, and began kissing him and then touching him below the belt. According to John's lawsuit, he eventually grew uncomfortable with the public nature of their contact, and suggested they go back to his dorm.

What followed was a sloppy drunken hookup—John vomited both before and after they had sex, and Jane vomited after. But in John's telling, Jane repeatedly, verbally consented to it—indeed, the whole thing had been her idea. If Jane was an incapacitated victim, then so was John.

By 6:00 a.m., John had to go to football practice. He told Jane she could sleep in his dorm room, and wear any of his clothes. A few minutes after he left, Jane stumbled out of the dorm room wearing nothing but John's T-shirt and her underwear. She encountered a random male student, and asked to sleep in his bed. Eventually, the authorities were called out of concern for Jane's well-being, according to John's lawsuit.

Campus security escorted Jane back to her dorm but decided to call her an ambulance. According to the lawsuit, security personnel "found her alert and oriented" but unable to correctly answer certain questions. She claimed to be a member of a secret society, "like a frat," which confused the officers, since Carleton doesn't have any fraternities. Jane vomited on the way to the hospital and "seemed remorseful."

As Jane sobered up, she became concerned that she had been raped, according to the lawsuit. Later that day, after receiving assurances that she would not face sanctions for reckless underage drinking, she filed a sexual misconduct complaint against John.

County prosecutors also filed criminal charges against John, but these were eventually dropped. The Carleton proceedings were adjudicated under the auspices of Title IX, the gender equality statute that looms large in campus sexual misconduct trials thanks to aggressive guidance from the Obama-era Education Department. John's lawsuit argues that he had no shot at a fair hearing, since the entire matter was handled by just two administrators: one who produced a report based on the evidence she had gathered, and another who passed judgment.

John was found responsible, and he was given five days to appeal the verdict to the Community Board on Sexual Misconduct. He did so. Prior to the hearing, he was finally allowed to review the administration's report on the dispute, which contained the Title IX officer's characterization of interviews with witnesses but not the transcripts of the actual interviews. John was also concerned that key text messages, which portrayed him in a favorable light, were not included in the report.

At the actual hearing, John was told that he could not introduce questions to be asked of Jane, who was questioned separately. He was also told that "witnesses would not be necessary at the hearing, as he would not be allowed to present any." Unsurprisingly, the committee confirmed that he was responsible for sexual misconduct. After it suspended him, John appealed the decision—as did Jane, who considered it too lenient.

In his appeal, John argued that the committee had not had access to all relevant evidence when making its decision and that "the sanction is inconsistent with the seriousness of the offense based upon the facts alleged." This apparently irked Dean of Students Carolyn Livingston, who denied John's appeal. She went so far as to agree with Jane that the punishment was too lenient in light of the fact that John had persisted in asserting his innocence. As a result, John was expelled.

The lawsuit demands that Carleton College pay John $75,000 in damages stemming from mental anguish, deprivation of due process and education opportunities, and loss of future career prospects. It will be interesting to watch the college's response to these charges.