Amherst College sexual assault case advances in federal court

A federal judge has ruled that a former student’s case against Amherst College, alleging he was unjustly expelled from the school for alleged sexual assault, can proceed.

The case involves a male student identified only as “John Doe,” who was expelled in 2013 after an Amherst College sexual misconduct hearing found him responsible for raping a female student in 2012.

In his lawsuit, Doe says he was falsely accused, and that the college’s investigation was inadequate and the hearing flawed.

In his ruling Feb. 28, U.S. District Judge Mark G. Mastroianni denied a request by Amherst College to dismiss the case, allowing the suit to move forward on several counts: breach of contract; breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing; and Title IX violations.

“We’re very pleased and we and our client are looking very much forward to a trial,” said Max Stern, the defendant’s lead attorney with the firm Todd & Weld LLP in Boston.

In a statement, Amherst College said it appreciated the judge dismissing some of the claims against them — including that the college discriminated against the plantiff based on race — and that in future proceedings the college “will have the opportunity to make its position clear and to show the fairness of the procedures we followed.”

The plaintiff and the woman he is accused of assaulting, identified by the pseudonym “Sandra Jones” in the lawsuit, say the woman performed oral sex on the man in her dormitory room one night, according to court documents.

But the woman told an attorney hired by the college to conduct an outside investigation that although she consented initially, she revoked that consent during the sexual act, according to court documents. She said the man physically forced her to continue, documents show.

The plaintiff alleges the college failed to obtain text messages sent by the woman later that same night, which his lawyers say show the woman was an active participant in the sex. When the defendant asked the college to consider the texts and reopen his case, the college refused, according to the complaint.

The case was heard by a new Sexual Misconduct Hearing Board at the time, created as part of an overhaul of Amherst College’s sexual assault complaint and hearing process.

The change came after several highly publicized accusations that Amherst College had failed sexual assault victims, whose cases were previously heard by a disciplinary committee consisting of both staff and students from the college.

The original case named as defendants Amherst College, former dean of students James Larimore, President Carolyn “Biddy” Martin, Laurie Frankl, the college’s Title IX coordinator, Susie Mitton Shannon, the former Title IX coordinator for students, and Torin Moore, assistant dean of students and director of residential life, who served as Doe’s advisor during the hearing process.

But Tuesday’s ruling means that the lawsuit would now go to trial against only Amherst College, the complaints against the other defendants having been dismissed.

If the plaintiff is able prove any of the claims, he could have a note removed from his transcript about his expulsion, and could be entitled to damages and the chance to finish his degree at Amherst College.

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