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Judge Orders College to Reverse Expulsion: John Doe Re-Enrolls for Semester as Lawsuit Proceeds

Claire Abbadi and Christian Jambora

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On Wednesday, Sept. 16 — the same day classes began at the College — U.S. District Court Judge J. Garvan Murtha ordered the College to temporarily re-enroll a student who had been expelled for an alleged sexual assault charge that took place while the student was studying abroad through the School for International Training (SIT).

The College released an official statement on Sept. 18 in reaction to Murtha’s decision, part of which states the following:

The Middlebury College Handbook holds students accountable for policy violations that take place between the time they first arrive on campus and their graduation. Under its policies, a Middlebury student’s off-campus conduct may be subject to Middlebury’s disciplinary processes when, among other things, such conduct may represent a threat to the safety of the Middlebury community or any of its members. Middlebury initiated an investigation and adjudication of the student’s conduct on that basis and we believe we properly applied our policies in this case.

Middlebury College is deeply disappointed by the court’s decision to grant the plaintiff, who currently is identified as John Doe, a preliminary injunction requiring Middlebury to allow him to re-enroll for the fall semester. We believe the court erred in its interpretation of the facts and the law in reaching this decision.

We are considering our legal options, but at this time we are obliged to comply with the court’s order.

Doe is being represented by Lisa B. Shelkrot of Langrock of Sperry & Wool, LLP in Burlington, VT, and Monica R. Shah and Naomi R. Shatz of Salkind Duncan & Bernstein LLP in Boston, MA. His counsel filed the lawsuit against the College for an “unjust and unlawful expulsion” on Aug. 28, after his appeals to reverse his expulsion were denied.

Following the court’s decision, Doe is now permitted to enroll in classes at the College through the fall 2015 semester while legal proceedings for the federal suit continue.

John Doe’s counsel asserts that their client “was falsely accused of sexual misconduct by Jane Doe.” Additionally, they state the College conducted its investigation after having already accepted SIT’s findings that Doe was not responsible for the charge and permitting him to return to campus for the following semester. As such, they state the College’s findings should not be upheld.

John Doe’s counsel argued that his expulsion throughout the proceedings will cause him irreparable damage in the form of reputational harm and lost educational and career opportunities. According to the initial complaint, the expulsion would cost him a position with a company he was to join after graduating that offered a starting salary of $85,000, a $10,000 signing bonus, and $5,000 in relocation fees.

The investigation led by the College was initiated after administrators were contacted by Jane Doe, who believed SIT had improperly conducted its initial investigation of the incident.

The College — represented by Karen McAndrew and Ritchie E. Berger of Dinse, Knapp & McAndrew P.C. in Burlington, VT — conducted its internal investigation through Ellen Coogan, an independent contractor who has investigated sexual misconduct cases on behalf of the College. Coogan concluded that John Doe’s “conduct towards Jane Doe constituted sexual misconduct” based on Jane Doe’s “assessments of credibility” and a “preponderance of evidence.”

The evidence submitted to the College by Jane Doe included: her statement to SIT in which she described John Doe’s assault that woke her from her sleep; a medical evaluation from a hospital in the country where John and Jane Doe were studying abroad; a medical report from Jane Doe’s physician in the U.S.; four pictures of blood-stained shorts that Jane Doe claims are a result of the attack; and four images of text messages allegedly sent by John Doe referencing the incident as a “cruel joke.” Reflecting on her finding, Coogan references the differences in credibility of both Jane and John Doe’s story. The defendant’s opposition states:

Ms. Coogan indicated that she was particularly struck by the consistency of Jane Doe’s account, and the way in which John Doe’s account changed over time. Id. She cited evidence that John Doe’s first statement to several friends, including Jane Doe, was something to the effect that he did not remember anything and had no idea what happened; that he next told another SIT student that he did not have sex with Jane Doe; he then admitted to an SIT administrator that he did have sex with her, but that it was consensual. John Doe also gave different versions of what sexual activity he was engaged in with Jane Doe. By the time of Ms. Coogan’s investigation, John Doe asserted that not only was the sex consensual, but that Jane Doe had initiated it.

John Doe described a very different story of the evening’s events. According to his account, a group of students that included himself and Jane Doe went out to a show, dinner and club on Nov. 7, 2014. Both John and Jane Doe consumed alcohol, but neither were visibly intoxicated. Later that night, John Doe, Jane Doe and Witness 1 — the latter of whom with John Doe had previously been engaged in a sexual relationship — decided to sleep in John Doe’s room. According to John Doe, he and Jane Doe then engaged in consensual, sexual intercourse.

John Doe’s complaint claims that Jane Doe “told a false account of what happened between her and the plaintiff on November 7-8, 2014, one in which she drank a number of drinks and has no memory of leaving the club and only remembers waking up in the plaintiff’s room, with a sheet over her face, engaged in sexual intercourse.” She allegedly then yelled, “Get off me. I don’t want this.”

According to Murtha’s ruling, John Doe, under his real identity, is currently listed as an “active student” enrolled in courses and was recently billed for the fall 2015 semester. However, if the College finds that John Doe’s expulsion is warranted, it will dismiss him as a student or, if applicable, later revoke his degree.

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Judge Orders College to Reverse Expulsion: John Doe Re-Enrolls for Semester as Lawsuit Proceeds