August 31, 2015 / 8:02 PM / 2 years ago

Ex-student sues Colgate University over expulsion in sex misconduct case

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former student who says he was falsely accused of sexual misconduct sued New York's Colgate University on Monday for expelling him after investigating complaints by three female students.

The man, an anonymous 22-year-old from Florida, was accused of non-consensual digital penetration, nonconsensual touching and sexual exploitation by three female students in separate incidents during the 2011-12 academic year, according to the lawsuit, brought in U.S. District Court for the Northern District. The women each filed reports about the incidents in October 2014.

Colgate, a small liberal arts university in Hamilton, New York, conducted an investigation and held a combined hearing on the three charges. The hearing panel found the accused student responsible for each charge and issued a disciplinary sanction of expulsion a month before his expected graduation, according to the lawsuit.

The ex-student told Reuters the sexual activity reported in each incident was consensual and that he thinks Colgate's hearing process needs to better protect students' right to due process.

"I would like to have my records cleared, and I would like to be able to go back and finish my degree," the former student said in a telephone interview. "I understand that accusing someone of sexual assault like this is no laughing matter, but I also think it’s terrible to be wrongly accused like this."

The lawsuit claims that Colgate failed to conduct a fair and timely investigation and did not abide by a preponderance-of-evidence standard. It also argues the student was discriminated against based on his gender and that the severity of the sanctions was disproportionate to that of the charges.

Rebecca Downing, a spokeswoman for Colgate, said the university does not comment on pending litigation.

"There’s actually evidence within the administration, within the faculty, that there was a push toward findings of responsibility and toward skewing the hearings," said Andrew Miltenberg, the plaintiff's attorney.

The lawsuit comes as schools across the country grapple with calls from victims' advocates to reform their policies to combat the problem of sexual assault on campus. In response, some student groups and legal advocates have pushed for schools to better protect the due process rights of accused students.

Miltenberg is also representing a recent graduate of Columbia University in a lawsuit, arguing the school allowed a student who accused him of rape to harass and defame him by carrying a mattress around campus in protest. Columbia asked a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit on Friday.

Reporting by Katie Reilly; Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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