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Lawsuits: Michigan State is biased against males in sex assault cases

More than three years of missteps in handling sexual assault cases has made Michigan State University swing the pendulum from not believing victims to now discriminating against male students, three lawsuits allege.

The suits — which include one by a former MSU football player — allege the male students involved were found "guilty" by the administrative investigative system simply because they were male. The suits go on to allege the university has deprived those students of their due process rights by not allowing them a live hearing with the chance to cross-examine their accusers as mandated by a federal court ruling last year.

"All three cases have a common thread," said attorney Andrew Miltenberg, who represents the men suing the university in all three cases. "In essence, the university has made a gross overreaction to (the Larry Nassar) debacle."

The cases, all filed in federal court, are:

• The Keith Mumphery case. The former MSU football player and former NFL player sued MSU after the Free Press reported on him being thrown off campus on accusations of violating the school's sexual conduct policy. Mumphery was then cut by the Houston Texans. Mumphery was initially found not to have violated the policy in a sexual encounter with a female student. However, the federal Office of Civil Rights mandated the case be reopened and, a year after the incident, MSU reversed its decision and found consent was not given. The female involved in the case also has sued MSU alleging missteps.

• On Dec. 20, a male student filed a suit over an incident that took place when he was a sophomore at MSU. The incident took place at a fraternity "beer olympics" event on Feb. 23, 2018. Five days later, the female student filed a complaint against the student, which was investigated by an outside investigator hired by MSU to help with a backlog of sex assault claims. The suit alleges the investigator was a former sex crimes prosecutor and was biased against the male student and approached the case as a prosecutor, not as an impartial fact-finder. The male student was found to have violated the conduct code and was suspended from MSU for two years. The student filed the case anonymously.

• On Dec. 26, a male student filed a similar case. The student was in his sophomore year at the time of the incident at the end of August 2017. The complaint centered on a male and female student who lived on the same floor of South Case Hall, attended a fraternity party together and then returned to the dorm. The female student filed a complaint against the male student, who was also found to have violated the code and was dismissed from school. The student filed the case anonymously.

The lawsuits also say MSU failed to give the male students due process by not allowing them to have a live hearing with direct cross-examination of their accusers. The federal 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in September 2018 in a case involving the University of Michigan that when issues of credibility are involved, there must be a live hearing with cross-examination.

MSU declined to comment on the specifics of the cases. However, then-interim President John Engler told the Free Press in mid-January, before he resigned, MSU isn't going into these cases believing the male student is guilty.

"I think that is a bit unfair and certainly overly broad in its generalization," he said. "We have not swung too far."

That's not the view of those suing the school.\

"The already heated campus climate concerning sexual assault reached its boiling point in spring 2018, when (male student) was being investigated for rape," the Dec. 20 lawsuit said. That was in the midst of the fallout of the Nassar scandal, where activists and sexual assault survivors were blaming MSU for not stopping Nassar when they first knew he was sexually assaulting female athletes. MSU officials, in turn, were repeatedly promising to take action against those committing sexual assault. The federal OCR, which had issued a scathing report in 2015 critical of MSU's handling of sexual assault cases, had also launched two more investigations.

"It was, in part, because of the pressure being exerted by OCR and because of the bad publicity surrounding the University, that the University sided with (the female student) over (the male student) in what amounted to a simple he said she said credibility contest," the Dec. 20 lawsuit said. "Plainly, the University simply did not want another situation in which it could be perceived as ignoring the complaints of women on campus.

"Michigan State has repeatedly conducted gender-biased investigations, conducted unfair procedures and imposed disproportionate sanctions against male students accused of misconduct."

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