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Student cleared of rape sues Maine's university system for not protecting him more
Bangor Daily News - 9/11/2019
Sep. 11--A male student at the University of Maine at Farmington, whom multiple women publicly said assaulted or harassed them, filed a lawsuit against Maine's public university system on Monday alleging that he was, in fact, a sexual assault victim and that the school did not protect him.
The lawsuit, which does not name the male student, alleges that the University of Maine at Farmington did not take his account seriously when he told school employees that a female student raped him in the 2017 spring semester.
It also claims that the school's Title IX investigations into allegations of rape and assault against him, which resulted in him being suspended, have harmed his chance at an education and caused him to lose income from his part-time position as a lifeguard at UMF's Fitness and Recreation Center.
"As a result of his unlawful suspension, Plaintiff has suffered damages, including the inability to progress toward his degree, damage to his reputation, and severe emotional distress," reads the complaint, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Bangor.
The University of Maine System will "vigorously defend its action in this matter," said Dan Demeritt, a university system spokesman. Both the system and David Fiacco, the director of community standards, rights and responsibilities, are named as defendants in the case.
"One of our highest priorities is the protection of our students and the campus community. Equally important is our respect for students' legal rights to due process. We have been properly balancing both," Demeritt said. The university system has not yet filed an official response in court.
The federal law Title IX requires schools funded with federal dollars to act if they know, or reasonably should know, of harassment that creates a hostile environment. Schools have to follow an adjudication process, laid out by federal guidelines, to resolve claims of sexual harassment or assault. It's separate from criminal proceedings and usually involves an administrative investigation, followed by a panel of people at the school deciding whether it's likely that a violation occurred.
The male student, who goes by "John Doe" in the complaint, was the subject of a Title IX investigation after another female student alleged that he raped her Sept. 27, 2017, in his off-campus apartment in Farmington. During two months that summer he had called her more than 500 times and texted more than 700 times, according to school documents, and sometimes used the threat of suicide as a way to stay in touch after the woman ended their relationship.
The woman, whom the Bangor Daily News wrote about in January under the pseudonym Sierra, reported being raped to police five days later. The Franklin County District Attorney's Office declined to prosecute.
The male student's lawsuit states that the woman had the opportunity to leave but opted to return to his apartment, that the sex was consensual and that, in the days afterward, the woman sent friendly text messages to him. The woman, however, described feeling numb, obtained a protection from abuse order against him and said she had a panic attack when she saw him on campus.
The first part of the Title IX process concluded that the man was "not responsible" for sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence and causing fear of physical harm, but he was responsible for harassment and stalking. He was allowed to remain on campus but could not contact Sierra. Sierra, who did not attend the hearing that resulted in this decision, appealed.
On Jan. 29, 2018, a five-person committee held a hearing on the appeal, which Sierra attended. It found the male student responsible for raping Sierra and issued a year-and-a-half suspension.
In his lawsuit, the male student argues that the committee was biased against him because there was just one man on it.
He filed an appeal of the committee's decision. But, while waiting for the appeal, he could not enter the campus, attend classes or go to his lifeguard job, the lawsuit states.
On March 23, 2018, a three-member panel met to decide the second appeal and found what it called a "deficiency" in the committee's proceedings. Because the first appeals committee had not been asked to disregard additional information about another potential protection from abuse order filed against the male student by a different female student, it found him not responsible for sexual assault.
"During the 2017-2018 academic year, Plaintiff endured three Title IX hearings," the lawsuit states. "His entire school year was lost."
Despite the ultimate decision, school employees prohibited the plaintiff from returning to his lifeguarding job and a campus dance group, according to the lawsuit.
The male student's parents pressed then-UMF President Kathryn Foster for compensation and, in October 2018, they agreed to a settlement to cover the 2017-18 tuition, lost wages and legal fees that he had been "forced to incur," the lawsuit states.
After the settlement, the lawsuit asserts that the university system "retaliated" against the male student by appearing supportive of alleged sexual assault victims whose cases had not gone their way. After the BDN wrote about the school's handling of two separate rape cases -- a story the lawsuit describes as "one-sided" -- then-interim President Eric Brown said that the two women in the piece "showed great courage," and that he was "personally moved and saddened" by the article.
"He made no statement that the article was inaccurate or incomplete, and failed to defend UMF's decisions regarding the Title IX allegations," the lawsuit states.
The university suspended the male student March 1 after a different, former student, a woman, told the school that he had coerced her into having sex, among other things, between fall 2015 and spring 2017. The "interim suspension" barred him from UMF and university system property while the school investigated.
In fact, the complaint states, it was the female student who raped him and admitted to it in a text message. He had told school employees in October 2017, and no one "commenced an investigation or took any steps to provide Plaintiff with options or guidance," the lawsuit states. A school employee said the university could not do anything because the female student had graduated.
The woman he references told the Bangor Daily News in February that the text message in question originated with the male student pressing her for sex and with her saying no.
"I eventually just agreed, at which point he switched to saying 'never mind, it's fine, we don't have to' and things along those lines. Which is something he has done in the past to guilt me," she said. After she agreed to have sex, "He accused me of raping him," she said.
He frequently tried to manipulate her into having sex, threatened to rape her and was physically abusive on several occasions, said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous. (Only her initials are used in the complaint to identify her.) She shared more than 200 text messages between her and the male student from May 2018 that show him not listening when she told him not to contact her and threatening to tell police she had raped him if she didn't send him pictures of her body.
A total of four former students told the BDN that the man physically took advantage of them both before and after he allegedly assaulted Sierra in 2017. A fifth woman described how he continued to ask her for sex after she said no. A sixth woman said she witnessed him harass her friend.
The male student, meanwhile, said in his lawsuit that there has not been meaningful progress on his most recent case. "Due to the 'interim' suspension that has been in place for over six months, he has not been able to return to school or work," the complaint reads.
He is asking the court to allow him to complete his degree. He wants compensatory damages and reimbursement for his attorney fees.
If you or someone you know needs resources or support related to sexual violence, contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault's 24/7 hotline at 800-871-7741.
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