Sewanee defense expects to wrap up questioning in $3 million suit

Sewanee defense expects to wrap up questioning in $3 million suit

August 31st, 2011 by Todd South in News

Attorney Charles B. Wayne, "John Doe" and his mother, Mary "Doe," exit the federal courthouse Tuesday for a lunch break.

Photo by Jake Daniels/Times Free Press.

Attorneys for a local university being sued for $3 million for breach of contract by a former student are expected to finish questioning witnesses today.

On Tuesday, an expert witness for Sewanee: The University of the South disagreed point-by-point with the testimony of a plaintiff's expert, whom attorneys questioned during the first two days of the trial.

Donald D. Gehring, testifying for the university, disagreed with nearly all of Brett Sokolow's opinions regarding how the school handled a rape accusation against a former student identified only as "John Doe" in court documents. Sokolow characterized the university's hearing process as unfair.

Gehring testified that the university followed the standard methods of such hearings and that the hearings do not rise to the level of scrutiny in a criminal trial.

"This is a disciplinary proceeding, an education opportunity," Gehring testified.

In his lawsuit, Doe claims the school was negligent by not giving him a fair hearing before expelling him following the accusation. The female student who made the accusations later left the school and didn't pursue rape charges against Doe.

Gehring is a professor emeritus of higher education and has 40 years experience in the field. Sokolow is president of the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management and consults hundreds of colleges on sexual harassment and assault policies.

The university paid Gehring $200 an hour for work as an expert, according to testimony, while Sokolow was paid $500 an hour for work on behalf of the plaintiff.

Sokolow said the school should have given Doe more time to mount a defense, called medical experts for more information and handed over evidence that could have helped Doe before the hearing.

On Aug. 29, 2008, Doe and a woman identified only as "A.B." in court documents had sexual intercourse in Doe's dorm room. A.B. left the room after the act to use the restroom down the hall, then returned. The next morning, she left and called police from a campus emergency phone to report that Doe had raped her.

A.B. met with Sewanee Dean Eric Hartman on Sept. 16, 2008, to report the incident. Hartman had her write a statement about the incident and asked a fellow dean to begin an investigation. Two days later, Hartman told Doe he had been charged with violating the school's sexual assault policy and accused of rape.

Hartman told Doe that his hearing on the matter was the next day, that he only needed to bring a character witness and to submit a written statement before the proceedings.

"I believe the one-day notice satisfies the university's standard," Gehring testified Tuesday.

A three-person faculty disciplinary committee heard testimony and read statements from both Doe and A.B. They decided Doe was responsible and had to leave campus within two days.

A.B. left campus that semester to seek drug and alcohol treatment.

After filing the lawsuit against Sewanee, Doe learned that A.B. took four different prescription medications for anxiety, depression and narcolepsy.