The 2017 expulsion of former University of Southern California (USC) football player Matt Boermeester for intimate partner violence was so blatantly unfair that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos cited the case as an argument for revising federal guidance on campus sexual assault adjudication. (DeVos's new rules, which restore some due process protections to students accused of misconduct, will take effect in the fall.)
After three years, Boermeester has won an: an appeals court reversed his utterly unjust expulsion in a ruling last week.
"The California Court of Appeal's decision, finding that USC violated Matt Boermeester's right to basic fairness, is a great initial victory," said Andrew Miltenberg, an attorney for Boermeester, in a statement. "We will not rest until Matt Boermeester's name is cleared and USC answers for their blatant misconduct."
Boermeester is also pursuing a federal lawsuit against USC alleging breach of contract, infliction of emotional distress, negligence, and selective enforcement of Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in education and compels schools to investigate sexual misconduct.
"After having three years of my life derailed, I'm gratified that the California Court of Appeals finally reversed my expulsion based on USC's wrongful, male-biased, witch hunt brought against me," said Boermeester in a statement. "Make no mistake, USC stripped away my educational opportunities and hopes and dreams of playing in the NFL, and this 'win' does not erase that."
Boermeester does not exaggerate the failings of the process by which he was deemed responsible for sexual misconduct. The underlying incident involved some public roughhousing between Boermeester and his girlfriend, Zoe Katz. A neighbor saw the interaction, thought it was a fight, and informed a USC coach who then reported it to the Title IX office. USC then initiated an investigation despite the protestations of the alleged victim—Katz—who maintained that she had "never been abused, assaulted, or otherwise mistreated by Matt." Katz told the Title IX officials in no uncertain terms that the investigation was baseless: In response, they wrote her off as a battered woman who was too afraid to tell the truth about her abuser.
Boermeester wasn't given the opportunity to defend himself—USC deemed him guilty without so much as a hearing. He lost his position on the football team and was expelled.
In arguments before the appeals court, USC's lawyers attempted to argue that their only piece of evidence—grainy security camera footage that purports to show Boermeester placing his hands on Katz—was so compelling that Title IX officials had been justified in reaching a guilty verdict, despite the procedural inadequacies. The judges wisely rejected this absurd reasoning.
"The case will now be remanded to the superior court, with instructions to 'afford Boermeester the opportunity to directly or indirectly cross-examine witnesses at an in-person hearing,'" according to the Los Angeles Times.
Boermeester was a promising athlete whose professional aspirations were completely destroyed by a pernicious Title IX investigation. There was no victim in this case, except for Boermeester himself. All proponents of basic fairness should wish him luck with the federal lawsuit.