Student's Sewanee suit to get U.S. trial

PDF: Sewanee lawsuit

A September trial is set in a case alleging mistreatment of a freshman who says he had to leave Sewanee: The University of the South with no recourse for defending himself against a rape allegation.

The trial, in U.S. District Court in Winchester, Tenn., could reveal the identities of the student and his parents. The court so far has granted anonymity to protect them from what they say was a false rape allegation that never led to criminal charges.

At issue is whether Sewanee, an Episcopal school, followed its own as well as federal protocols for resolving allegations of sexual misconduct among students.

Colleges and universities that receive federal funding, such as Sewanee, must at least follow the federal protocol, which includes giving "due process to both parties involved" and investigating complaints thoroughly.

But the 45-page lawsuit filed in June 2009 by "John Doe" and his parents claims the school never did that. The lawsuit claims the school "recklessly" pieced together an incompetent investigation that disregarded Mr. Doe's rights and ignored the female accuser's "serious chemical and psychological issues."

Mr. Doe and his parents are seeking a $1 million judgment for, among other things, "injury to reputation." They also want Sewanee to pay $2 million in punitive damages.

Mr. Doe's attorney, Charles B. Wayne, of Washington, D.C., declined to comment on the case.

The university has answered the allegations by denying any negligence in its handling of Mr. Doe's case, court records show. A Sewanee spokesman said that the school does not comment on pending litigation.

The complaint states the director of the university counseling service, Dr. David L. Spaulding, had misgivings about the investigation that derailed the male freshman's college career.

According to the complaint, Dr. Spaulding told Mr. Doe's mother than he was "appalled" by the school's decision and that Mr. Doe had been "railroaded."

Dr. Spaulding also was "shocked" to learn that the dean investigating the allegations interviewed Mr. Doe just once, and for less than five minutes, before a hearing in which a university panel sided with the accuser, the complaint states.

Court documents show that the accuser, an 18-year-old freshman, was taking "mood stabilizers" and medications for depression, anxiety and narcolepsy in August 2008 when she made the rape allegation.

She left Sewanee the same semester to seek treatment for drug and alcohol addiction and never sought criminal prosecution against Mr. Doe, documents state.

Sewanee didn't expel Mr. Doe but required him to leave immediately in September 2008. He could have come back in January with a rape allegation on his record or restarted in the fall of 2009 with a clean slate.

Mr. Doe did not return, and the university has refused to refund $22,000 in tuition and fees, according to court records.