A lawsuit filed by an anonymous former student claiming that Colgate University unlawfully expelled him in his senior year based on accusations of sexual abuse by three female students was dismissed Wednesday by a federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence Kahn granted the small liberal arts university in Hamilton summary judgment with respect to each cause of action in the lawsuit brought on by John Doe in August 2015, Doe v. Colgate University, 5:15-cv-1069.
The plaintiff’s attorney said he planned to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
The anonymous plaintiff in the lawsuit attended the university from 2011 until he was expelled during his senior year in April 2015, after being found responsible for three instances of sexual misconduct against the unnamed students that occurred during the 2011-12 academic year. He contended the touching was consensual and not reported to college officials until much later. The plaintiff alleges that in his expulsion, Colgate University violated Title IX—a federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in education—and the state’s Human Rights Law. The plaintiff also claimed that the university was in breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, violated the New York General Business Law, as well as demonstrated liability based on equitable estoppel theory and was negligent.
Kahn granted the plaintiff anonymity in April 2016 after a magistrate judge had earlier denied the request. The plaintiff successfully argued that the potential harm he faced outweighed the public’s interest in his being identified.
In his decision released Tuesday, Kahn wrote that the plaintiff “fails to provide sufficient evidence that gender bias motivated Colgate’s decision to expel him.”
The plaintiff had argued that the school was biased in favor of women due to student activism and the reaction to what occurred in Columbia University, when a female student carried a mattress throughout the campus after an inquiry by the university found a lack of evidence that she was raped by a male student. The plaintiff also claimed that Colgate’s investigation was tainted because the primary investigator, Val Brogan, once worked in the Abused Persons Unit at the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department, and might be biased against men.
Kahn wrote, “this assessment of Brogan’s history with alleged sexual assault perpetrators is entirely conjectural, however, and the court rejects the notion that a person must harbor bias against men because that person handled sexual assault cases while working for law enforcement.”
The judge also found that none of the breach of contract arguments the plaintiff made create “a genuine issue of material fact.” The plaintiff, represented by Andrew Miltenberg, a managing partner at Nesenoff & Miltenberg, claimed that the university violated its equity grievance policy and that the complaints made against him were submitted several years after the alleged incidents occurred.
The university’s grievance policy does not specify how many hours of training members will be provided, “therefore, this argument fails to establish that Colgate violated its EGP,” Kahn wrote. Kahn added that the equity grievance policy has no formal time limitation for bringing of a complaint against a member of the campus community.
Kahn chided the plaintiff’s attorney in the decision, noting that Miltenberg “regularly supports arguments with statements that mischaracterize the record.”
“The frequency with which these mischaracterizations appear in plaintiff’s response and response statement of facts is unprofessional and inappropriate, and the court admonished plaintiffs counsel and cautions counsel to avoid this practice in future filings,” Kahn wrote.
Miltenberg, whose litigation boutique has a practice of representing students accused of misconduct, said Wednesday afternoon that he was “really upset” that they had lost the case but was planning to appeal the decision to the Second Circuit.
Laura Harshbarger, a member at Bond, Schoeneck & King in Syracuse, said in a phone call that the university was “very pleased” with the court’s decision, which “determined that Colgate’s decisions in this case were lawful, legitimate and not gender biased.”