published Saturday, September 3rd, 2011

Jury finds Sewanee and student at fault; awards student $26,500

“John Doe" exits the Joel W. Solomon Federal Building earlier in his trial with his mother, Mary "Doe", left, and attorneys Elisha King, bottom right, and Charles B. Wayne, top right.
“John Doe" exits the Joel W. Solomon Federal Building earlier in his trial with his mother, Mary "Doe", left, and attorneys Elisha King, bottom right, and Charles B. Wayne, top right.
Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

A former student who engaged in a three-year legal battle with Sewanee: The University of the South said the Friday verdict in his case proves the school unfairly handled a rape accusation against him in 2008.

A federal jury awarded $26,500 to the former student, identified only as John Doe in court documents, who sued the school for negligence and breach of contract. He had asked for $5.5 million.

University spokeswoman Laurie Saxton said in a news release Friday that the low amount of damages shows that the jury thought Doe “received a fair hearing.”

“It is significant that John Doe essentially was awarded only a refund of his tuition and that the jury declined to award damages for any injury to his reputation, emotional injury, or loss of earning capacity,” Saxton wrote.

Charles Wayne, one of Doe’s two Washington D.C.-based attorneys, said after the hearing that, even though they are disappointed in the award, the jury’s verdict “confirms what we have been saying all along — the verdict is a victory for the rights of students accused of sexual assault on campus.”

When asked if he would appeal the results of the trial, Wayne said, “we are considering all of our options.”

The university’s attorney, Rosemarie Bryan, said she has no plans to appeal.

At the end of a seven-day trial, the jury awarded an amount far less than the $5.5 million Doe had sought. Jurors found the school had been negligent but that it did not breach its contract with Doe, another claim in the lawsuit.

The jury, which deliberated for about 5 1/2 hours over two days, assigned 53 percent of the fault to the university and 47 percent to Doe. The percentage of fault determines how much of the jury’s award Doe receives. Assigning 53 percent of the fault to the university means Doe receives $26,500.

Jurors declined to comment on their decision.

Following the hearing, in an exclusive interview with the Times Free Press and under an agreement of continued anonymity, Doe explained his thoughts about the three-year ordeal.

“I’m very happy with just the fact that they’ve essentially vindicated everything I’ve been saying over the last three years,” he said. “A federal jury did find that they didn’t allow me to defend myself.”

He has continued his education at another college after leaving Sewanee and said he’s doing his best “to move on and not let it dominate my life.”

Doe said he is thankful that U.S. District Judge Harry “Sandy” Mattice allowed him to continue under a pseudonym throughout the process, but that he would have continued with the lawsuit nonetheless.

“I had to do everything I could to clear my name,” he said.

Doe and a woman identified only as A.B. in court documents had sexual intercourse in his dorm room on Aug. 29, 2008.

A.B. left the room after the act to use the restroom down the hall then returned. She stayed until the next morning and later called police to report Doe had raped her at about 7 a.m.

On Sept. 16, 2008, A.B. met with Sewanee Dean Eric Hartman to report the alleged rape. Hartman charged Doe under the school’s sexual assault policy and began an investigation.

Two days later, Hartman told Doe about the accusation and that the hearing would be the following day. He told Doe to meet with his faculty adviser, write a statement and bring a character witness.

Doe said Friday that he was “stunned” at the allegation but at the time trusted the school would treat him fairly so he followed Hartman’s instructions.

At the hearing, Doe was found guilty of violating the school’s sexual assault policy after the three-member discipline committee decided he should have known A.B. was unable to consent because she had been drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana.

Months later, after filing a lawsuit, Doe learned that A.B. was on four medications for anxiety, depression and narcolepsy. She left the school during the fall 2008 semester to seek drug and alcohol treatment. She never sought criminal charges against Doe.

Saxton said Friday that the university had not significantly changed its sexual assault policies since the accusation against Doe.

“We would not necessarily change our process or policy because of the trial, but we’re always reviewing our procedures,” she said.

Doe hopes Sewanee and other schools look closely at how administrators treat students accused in such cases.

“You have to realize what you’re doing. You have to take this seriously,” he said. “They need to be fair to everyone.”

This article has been revised on September 3, 2011 to reflect the following clarification: The original headline stated the amount awarded John Doe was $50,000.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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AndrewLohr said...

Maybe a somewhat religious school should look into the Bible's standard, requiring two witnesses to convict anyone of anything? Maybe it should';ve expelled them both for fornication?

September 3, 2011 at 6:31 a.m.
328Kwebsite said...

The article was updated in a way that reinstates a factual error into the headline. We were told yesterday that the award was not $50,000. Please read what you write. Thanks.

September 3, 2011 at 7:22 a.m.
Karen55 said...

So the jury finds the school negligent, but the University spokeswoman still says she thinks the verdict means the jury thought he received a fair hearing? Um, no, Laurie, the jury said you were negligent. That means this kid did NOT receive a fair hearing. It's too bad the University is not expressing a shred of responsibility for that, or saying anything about changing its ways.

September 3, 2011 at 9:19 a.m.
hcirehttae said...

I still think this is a dicey case right on the cutting edge of law and morality. She had been smoking pot and drinking; she stopped drinking three hours before they had sex; she was a freshman, only three weeks at college. He had been smoking pot and drinking; he stopped three hours before they had sex in his dorm room; he was a freshman, only three weeks at college. Both were conscious and coherent and moving on their own power. Neither of them was significantly impaired (based on the briefs filed) because of the time that had passed.

She got up in the night and left his presence to use the bathroom; she talked with his friends in the dormitory suite for a while; she returned to his bedroom; he got out of bed to play the guitar and she invited him to come back in. He had no realistic way of knowing that she was on other medication; her behavior was apparently normal, whatever that means. How is this unsophisticated boy supposed to divine that this unsophisticated girl is actually unhappy about this series of events?

Consenting? Based on what we know, my judgment is yes, but I can't be 100% sure. She decided the next morning that she had been sexually assaulted. No one else agreed, apparently. The police and prosecutor declined to file charges.

I feel empathy for the girl. I'm sure that it was an unpleasant event for her in retrospect, but I don't see how you hold the boy accountable for having what seems to be consensual, though perhaps ill-advised sex. Freshmen in college should not get drunk and have sex, but I don't know precisely how to stop them. For some who are emotionally fragile, it's traumatic; for others, it's "oh, well, that was weird."

I realize this case was about due process, legal this-and-that, blah blah blah. But the underlying question is, was the boy treated fairly? Was his conduct reprehensible in some way? How his conduct violates the University policy -- that I don't see. Can Sewanee say that retroactively, one person can decide she/he didn't want to have sex and so it wasn't consensual? Wow -- that's quite a morass of guilt and responsibility to open up. That eventuality occurs every weekend on college campuses across the country. Can Sewanee uphold such a tight standard if the law doesn't?

Maybe the university should draw a brighter line and forbid male-female visitation in dormitories after a certain hour, or forbid sexual contact on campus altogether. That's a policy that was in place for decades, with locked gates and curfews, etc. This case seems like a small step back toward those days, when it's assumed that a girl doesn't really want to have sex and a boy really does, and it's a process of him overcoming her resistance, by means fair or foul. I'm not sure we want to go there.

September 3, 2011 at 9:40 a.m.
petuniadewitt said...

so let's see... the 'victim' gets drunk and high, has sex, and later decides she regrets it and then is allowed to ANONYMOUSLY charge her 'attacker' with a life-wrecking accusation?! people who make accusations should not be able to hide-- and no one should fear a mentally deranged accuser using shield laws to exact vengeance with no accountability; i'd like to see the accuser sued and her identity revealed-- why no giant picture of HER?

September 3, 2011 at 11:13 a.m.
chipperi said...

NEVER report a crime to a university or campus security! They only have one priority, and that is keeping their crime report numbers down. Immediately call local law enforcement and get the legal system rolling, this way the college cannot hide it.

September 3, 2011 at 6:05 p.m.
Echo said...

I guess "SACK101 - Introduction to Identifying a NutJob before you Shag" wasn't in the curriculum at University of the South at that time.

September 3, 2011 at 8 p.m.
brokentoe said...

petuniadewitt said... so let's see... the 'victim' gets drunk and high, has sex, and later decides she regrets it and then is allowed to ANONYMOUSLY charge her 'attacker'

Unfortunately, petuniadewitt, this happens all the time in the military and especially between young male and female recruits. They go out partying, drinking(and who knows what else) together. Then they both, stoned, drunk or both, end up in one others dorm or hotel room. Most often the female has a change of mind the next day and screams rape! The guy gets court martialed and either receives prison time and a dishonorable discharge. His life is forever ruined. The female often goes on and do a repeat of the same. On up to including screaming rape!! again, and the traic cycle continues on with the next and next unsuspecting male.

The problem is there are no true clear lines or laws on what constitutes an actual rape. This is where the law needs to change. As it presently exist, it does more harm to actual rape victims than anything else and to real victims who still often have a difficult time proving rape in the courts.

Presently, in many cases the laws actually favor the woman even if she willingly starts to have sex with the guy and after the second or third stroke she tells him to stop and he continues stroking. rolling my eyes here. %{

September 3, 2011 at 8:52 p.m.
VictoriaSA said...

What surprised me was the ease at which students had access to alcohol and weed in camp. This is also one of the reasons that such vice should be kept away from students. Using the influence alcohol and marijuana as reasons that she could not have consented to the act was unfair, because not everybody has the same tolerance levels to the substances.

Simon -

May 10, 2012 at 3:12 a.m.
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