Rdsmith4 / Wikimedia CommonsA former student who was expelled for sexual misconduct just four days before graduating is suing the University of Chicago for allegedly violating his due process rights.
He has also sued his accuser—his ex-girlfriend—which is a rare step for those seeking justice in such cases. Most lawsuits born of shoddy campus sexual misconduct adjudication solely target the institution.
That the accused student, "John Doe," has chosen to sue his accuser, "Jane Roe," is indicative of the serious, malicious actions he ascribes to her. According to Doe's lawsuit, their relationship was entirely consensual, and Roe did not dispute that. After they broke up, they continued to have sex, and those encounters were all consensual as well. Roe did not allege wrongdoing until her friends—to whom she had trash-talked Doe, and promised to stop seeing her ex—discovered she was still sleeping with him. She then claimed Doe had engaged in nonconsensual sex with her after she had passed out.
"UC expelled [John Doe] despite overwhelming evidence that Jane Roe fabricated her story because she was too embarrassed to admit to her friends at UC that she was engaged in a secret sexual relationship with her ex-boyfriend," wrote Doe's lawyers in his lawsuit.
Obviously, the lawsuit only represents one side of the story, and presents the facts in a light most favorable to Doe. Theirs appears to have been an extremely messy break-up and subsequent friends-with-benefits period; no doubt there is some blame to go around.
But a panel of university officials litigated their relationship and found Roe blameless for what had transpired. Doe actually filed a counterclaim accusing Roe of misconduct and violence. Officials scoffed at this and cleared Roe, according to the lawsuit.
Doe was not so lucky. In fact, he was expelled—even though one of his witnesses, a friend of Roe's, had told the university that the friend had spoken with Roe for an hour via FaceTime immediately before the encounter. This witness, "CG," said Roe did not seem too drunk to consent, and in fact bragged that she and Doe were about to have "angry sex," just before the call ended.
Again, these are all details from the lawsuit, though they directly quote from statements and text messages in the university's investigatory file. The full lawsuit is here.
To summarize the backstory, according to the lawsuit: Doe has claimed that he and Roe began dating during the fall 2017 semester. She spent so much time at his place that his roommates asked her to help pay for utilities. "For the most part, we had a good relationship—he was nice to me, we enjoyed each [other's] company, and I was happy," Roe wrote, according to the lawsuit.
That came to an end during winter break, when Doe accompanied Roe on a family trip to Costa Rica. During an argument, Roe punched Doe in the face and scratched him, and Doe spit at Roe. This caused them to break up.
When classes resumed, they continued to have sex, despite some persistent hurt feelings. Roe did not think her friends would approve of her continuing to sleep with Doe, so she misled them about what was going on. Roe texted a friend from her hometown, "KH," the following:
We both talked shit to our friends and they'd all be pissed if they knew we went back to each other in any capacity
So now idk where to go from here
I might just use him for sex when I want it and have no emotional connection
Roe subsequently misled KH as well, telling this friend that she was not having sex with Doe when she actually was.
"Like I don't want you to feel hurt or betrayed or anything but like I promise you that I'm not going back to him ever," Roe texted KH. "He's not my go to it's always you."
KH replied: "I really don't want u to go back to him or even be friends with him and if u do its really going to hurt me because things went back to normal and I'm closer to you than I ever was and I don't want you to be ruined again."
Roe took elaborate steps to deceive her friends: She changed Doe's name in her phone so it wouldn't look like he was sending her messages, and she turned off location services on her phone so they wouldn't know she was heading to his apartment.
That all these sexual encounters were consensual is not disputed. "I will say once again that each time we had sex post-relationship was consensual," Roe later told the investigators.
The only exception was a March 9 encounter. Doe invited Roe over to his place after a party that involved drinking. Well after 1:00 a.m., Roe posted Snapchat videos of herself in Doe's apartment. Around 3:00 a.m., Roe began facetiming with a friend, "CG." According to the lawsuit:
CG stated that Jane Roe facetimed her from Plaintiff's bed at around 3 a.m., Plaintiff and Jane Roe were wearing minimal clothing and the three of them talked for about an hour. CG said that "by all appearances, everything seemed consensual." Jane Roe "was able to participate fully and communicated clearly in the conversation." Jane Roe "was not incapacitated." After an hour, Jane Roe told CG that it was time for her to go and "angry fuck" with the Plaintiff.
Doe alleges that Roe's late-night Snapchat videos from his apartment effectively exposed her dishonesty to her friends. She then claimed that she had been too drunk to remember what was happening, and any sex between them was nonconsensual. A month later, she filed a complaint with the associate dean of students.
The ensuing investigation was unfair to Doe, he claims. He was not initially made aware of the charges against him; he did not know, for instance, which aspects of their relationship Roe had cited as evidence of wrongdoing. His hearing was scheduled for May 31—in the middle of final exams—and he was not informed of Roe's specific allegations until May 17.
Investigators compiled a report that consisted of interviews with 26 witnesses (including KH and CG). But the only people to testify at the hearing were Doe and Roe. They did so separately: The university did not allow cross-examination, and it did not permit lawyers to be present. The lawsuit describes the hearing as wildly prejudiced against Doe. Based on a preponderance of the evidence, officials found him responsible for having done things Roe never even alleged in any formal capacity, including that he was responsible for some bruises on her body. (One witness, "MS," testified that Roe had once fallen through a glass table, and she had posted a picture of her injury on social media with the caption, "My RA's just expressed concern for me after seeing my super bruised legs and I had to explain to them that I just fell through a glass table and am not, in fact, being abused.")
The university concluded that Doe had engaged in nonconsensual sex with Roe, as well as "coercive behavior," including "shaming," "name-calling," and "repeatedly asking for sex after being told no." His punishment was immediate expulsion, four days before he was scheduled to graduate. His appeal was denied. He also lost the job he had been promised after graduation, as it was contingent upon finishing his degree. He became depressed and suicidal.
The lawsuit accuses the university of breach of contract and abridgment of due process. It also contends that Roe defamed Doe and portrayed him in a false light.
I would certainly like to hear her side of the story. It could be the case that there was good reason for the university to reach a guilty verdict, and that the process was fairer than it seems. But it's difficult to square Roe's texts and calls to friends with what she alleged, at least according to the lawsuit.
One final note: The story was actually covered by the student newspaper, The Chicago Maroon. The author of that article—a sorority sister of Roe's, according to a disclaimer at the end—interviewed Roe, who said:
After the relationship ended, she said, she realized his behavior had been abusive.
"A lot of people have this idea that an abusive relationship is—you're throwing punches at the other person. But there's a lot more to it. You can have emotional abuse, verbal abuse," she said.
She said that attending a Panhellenic Council workshop—a film screening and discussion on relationship violence—was "eye-opening," confirming for her that she had been involved in an abusive relationship. Realizing this, she resolved to "move on" and put the experience behind her.
Doe told the newspaper, "I did not do this. I swear to that with every ounce of my being."
Even Roe thought the expulsion was a harsh outcome, she told The Maroon.
"To go through four full years of college, and to have paid for all of it, and get nothing for it, is a terrible thing to have happen," she said, while adding that "this all could have been avoided had he not behaved the way he did and made the decisions he made, and he is the only person to blame for him being expelled."