Students file dueling lawsuits over sexual assault case at Michigan

A woman, attending the University of Michigan is suing a former student, claiming he sexually assaulted her.

ANN ARBOR, MICH. - He was a junior at the University of Michigan and a member of one of the many fraternities on the Ann Arbor campus. She was a freshman and a sorority member. They met at a party at his frat house, where they both were drinking. They danced, had a shot of vodka together and eventually had sex.

He says the sex was consensual. She says it was rape — she was too drunk and in and out of consciousness to consent or to tell him to stop. After they had sex, he left her in his bed, but put a trash pail next to her in case she had to vomit. She did.

She went to a hospital the next day where a rape kit was administered and police called.

No criminal charges were filed. Instead, the case went through the university's administrative process. He eventually signed an agreement that exiled him from the University of Michigan.

Now months later, the man has changed his mind and asked a federal court earlier this month to strike down the university ruling that he violated the school's sexual misconduct policy and reinstate him to campus.

Angered by that move, the woman sued him Wednesday in Washtenaw County Circuit Court, accusing him of sexual assault and battery, breach of contract and inflicting emotional distress on her.

The dueling lawsuits are asking the courts to weigh in on what was an internal adjudication done by university officials behind closed doors that first found in his favor and then, on appeal, found he had sexually assaulted her.

"He decided to sue the University of Michigan, stating that it was unfair that he left the university and that he felt forced to sign an agreement, which he had signed voluntarily and with the advice of legal counsel," the woman told the Free Press. "Instantly, the anxiety, the nightmares and the terrible thoughts came flooding back."

But the attorney representing the man  in his bid to be reinstated at U-M says the woman's lawsuit is about retribution and punishing an innocent college student.

"There is no legal claim here," said Deborah Gordon, the attorney representing the former student. "This is done strictly to be punitive. This is just an attempt to do harm to my client. He did nothing to harm her. He even asked her if she wanted to have sex. They are just upset that he had the gall to challenge U-M's finding."

The man and woman filed their lawsuits as John Doe and Jane Doe. Because of this, the Free Press is not naming either, even though the woman named her assailant in her court filing.

The incident occurred in January, when the woman — then a freshmen — went with her sorority sisters to a fraternity-hosted "Risky Business"-themed party, at which attendees wore boxers and white button-down shirts, mimicking the famous Tom Cruise scene from the movie.

Both sides agree they were both drinking and danced together, and he served her a shot of vodka in his room. Their accounts of what happened next diverge.

In her lawsuit, and in an interview with the Free Press before the suit was filed, the woman said she was in and out of consciousness and "paralyzed" by the amount of alcohol in her system, while the man had sex with her.

After sex, the man put a trash can next to her while she was in his bed and then left, she said. She vomited into the trash can and was found, crying, soon afterward by the defendant's roommate and another woman, whom she didn't know. That woman helped her get dressed and into an Uber back to her dorm room.

Following the trip to the hospital, she went to the university's Office of Institutional Equity and filed a complaint, alleging the man had violated the university's sexual misconduct code by raping her when she was too drunk to stop him.

An investigator from the university then notified the man and interviewed him. The accused said he had no indication that the woman was too drunk to give consent. He told the investigator "nothing stuck out" to suggest that she had had alcohol before coming to the party.

"When asked whether the complainant said 'no sex' prior to any additional sexual activity, the respondent said she did not," the investigator wrote in her report. "The respondent said that he then asked the complainant, 'Do you want to have sex?' and the complainant said, 'Yeah.'"

The investigator interviewed 23 various witnesses and concluded that "there is no evidence of the complainant's outward signs of incapacitation that the respondent would have observed prior to initiating the sexual activity. In other words, the evidence obtained in this investigation does not support either party's report of the incident ... thus, the evidence supporting a finding of sexual misconduct is not determining to be more convincing than evidence offered in opposition to it," the investigator's report says.

The woman appealed.

The administrative appeal board overturned the investigator's findings and found the man had violated the sexual conduct code. In late June, he signed a resolution agreement, agreeing to a banishment from U-M.

Then, in early September, he filed a federal lawsuit against the investigator, the members of the appeals board and the head of U-M's student life division. He claims that his due process was violated. He also claims that one member of the board, David Baum, an assistant dean in the law school, had a conflict of interest. He alleges that Baum knows both Sarah Prescott, a lawyer in the firm representing the female student, and her husband, a professor at U-M. Not disclosing his conflict of interest led to a violation of the man's right to due process, his lawsuit said.

Sarah Prescott denied there was any conflict.

"I think these allegations are going to be quickly disposed of, because there's no there there," she told the Free Press.

U-M declined to comment on the substance of the case.

"We have great confidence in the decision reached by the appeals panel, and we will respond through the appropriate court filings," spokesman Rick Fitzgerald told the Free Press.

Detroit Free Press


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