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Freshman sues Clemson to overturn sex misconduct suspension

Clemson University campus
Clemson University campus

A federal civil rights lawsuit was filed against Clemson University last week by a freshman who is seeking to overturn a one-year suspension that he received for sexual misconduct and other infractions.

The student, identified only as John Doe, contends that he had consensual sex last October with another Clemson student who later filed a complaint claiming that she was a victim of sexual misconduct, according to the suit.

After an administrative hearing, Clemson officials found that "complainant was incapacitated during the incident and unable to give consent," according to the suit. The suit says that the male student was suspended for six months and evicted from his dormitory for violating university rules involving alcohol, disorderly conduct, harm to person and sexual misconduct.

The male student appealed the ruling, according the suit. On May 27, university Chief of Staff Max Allen upheld the ruling and increased the student's suspension to one year, the suit says.

The suit lists a series of alleged "wrongful actions" by the university. They include failure to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation, improperly advising and advocating on behalf of the female accuser, gender bias, failure to provide the male student with a presumption of innocence and an unilateral and arbitrary increase of unwarranted sanctions.

The suit also claims that there is no indication that the incident involving the two students was reported to the Clemson University Police or the Clemson Police Department.

University spokesman John Gouch issued an email response to questions from the Independent Mail.

"We are aware of the lawsuit," he wrote. "However, we don't comment on pending litigation or student conduct matters."

The student who filed the suit is being represented by two lawyers from Charleston and New York City attorney Andrew Miltenberg.

Miltenberg is representing dozens of students who have filed lawsuits claiming that they have been kicked out of colleges and universities across the nation after being falsely accused of sexual misconduct. Earlier this year, he filed a suit questioning the legality of a letter that the U.S. Department of Education issued in 2011 outlining what schools are obligated to do under the gender equity law Title IX in response to reports of sexual assault and harassment.

Advocates say the Department of Education letter prompted colleges and universities to more effectively address campus sexual assaults. But critics argue that the directive has caused some institutions to become overly zealous.

According to the suit filed last week, the number of Clemson students investigated on sexual misconduct allegations increased 57 percent from the 2013-2014 school year to the 2014-2015 school year.

The suit says the student identified as John Doe graduated from a private high school in Charleston in 2015 with a 3.85 grade-point average.

"He was a member of the National Honors Society, an active member of the Student Senate, participated in the Big Brother Big Sister mentoring program and received varsity scholar athlete awards in baseball, hockey, football and track, in addition to other prestigious awards granted to student athletes," the suit says.

As a result of his suspension, the suit claims, "his education and career prospects have been severely compromised as he will be unable to gain admission to a graduate school or obtain employment with a disciplinary mark on his academic record."

The suit also contains details about the night in which the student identified as John Doe and the female student identified as Jane Doe had sex.

"October 24, 2015, started off as an enjoyable day for John Doe," the suit says. "His fraternity, Phi Delta Theta, was planning to host a party that evening, which also happened to be his birthday."

According to the suit, the two students met at the party at the fraternity's off-campus house that night. Both students had been drinking before they started kissing, the suit says.

After kissing for 10 minutes, they left the party "to find somewhere more private," the suit says.

The students walked for 20 minutes before going into a small covered building behind a house, the suit says. The suit also says the female student then started taking off her clothes.

According to the suit, the female student said she knew what she was doing before they had sexual intercourse.

The suit says that the female student sent a text message to the male student about their encounter on the next morning. But she later claimed that she had no memory of the event, the suit states.

After informing a university counselor about the incident on Oct. 29, the female student filed a formal Title IX complaint on Nov. 11, according to the suit.

While the male student was appealing his initial 6-month suspension from the university, he received notice from a Phi Delta Theta official on April 18 that he was being suspended from the fraternity and recommended for expulsion, according to the suit.

The fraternity official named in the suit, Phi Delta Theta Director of Chapter Services Michael Wahba, did not return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday.

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