Yale University is poised to be rocked by a high-profile lawsuit over its handling of campus sexual assault, setting up what could become a banner case in the ongoing national debate over the treatment of rape allegations on campus.
Yale’s basketball team has surprised everybody by making the NCAA tournament for the first time in a half-century, but the team’s success has been overshadowed by the expulsion of team captain Jack Montague.
Montague, a senior, was expelled in February just a few weeks before earning his degree. While Yale officials haven’t commented on the reasons for his departure, citing academic privacy laws, it was an open secret that Montague was kicked out due to an allegation of sexual misconduct. Among other things, Montague was targeted by posters placed around campus that urged his basketball teammates (who wore practice t-shirts to show solidarity with him) to “stop supporting a rapist.”
Now, Montague is preparing to go to war with the university, claiming he was the victim of a school bureaucracy desperate to show that it could be tough on assault. In a statement released Monday on The Tab, a college news website, Montague’s attorneys said he is planning to sue Yale, and laid out an argument that would, if true, be a severe indictment of Yale’s procedures.
Montague was kicked out over a sexual encounter that occurred over a year ago, in October 2014, according to the statement. The statement says Yale hired an independent investigator to look into the allegations, and claims the following facts are not in dispute:
– [Montague and a female student] developed a relationship that led to them sleeping together in Jack’s room on four occasions in the fall of 2014.
– On the first occasion, the woman joined Jack in bed and stayed the night.
– On the second occasion, she entered his bed voluntarily, removed all of her clothes and, during the night, woke him to perform oral sex.
– On the third occasion, she joined him in bed, voluntarily took off all her clothing, and they had sexual intercourse by consent.
– On the fourth occasion, she joined him in bed, voluntarily removed all of her clothes, and they had sexual intercourse. Then they got up, left the room and went separate ways. Later that same night, she reached out to him to meet up, then returned to his room voluntarily, and spent the rest of the night in his bed with him.
The sexual assault allegations stem from the fourth episode, with the female student claiming her sexual intercourse with Montague was non-consensual. The student made her allegation to a Yale Title IX coordinator in the fall of 2015, about a year after the alleged incident. The coordinator in turn made a formal complaint to a university committee, which began the proceedings that led to Montague’s expulsion.
“Only two persons could have known what happened on that fourth night,” the statement continues. “The panel chose to believe the woman, by a ‘preponderance of the evidence.’ We believe that it defies logic and common sense that a woman would seek to re-connect and get back into bed with a man who she says forced her to have unwanted sex just hours earlier. And yet the Dean accepted this conclusion and ordered Jack to be expelled. His decision was then upheld by the Provost.”
The statement then argues that by expelling Montague, Yale has callously performed “catastrophic and irreparable” harm to Montague’s academic and basketball careers. The school’s motivation, it suggests, was a desire to appease activists and regulators who have criticized the school’s handling of sexual assault cases.
The statement then ends bluntly: “Mr. Montague intends to sue Yale University to vindicate his rights.”
Yale, for its part, has continued to remain cagey due to student privacy laws, but it noted in a statement released Monday that only ten percent of sexual assault allegations at the school end in expulsion, an argument likely intended to rebut the idea Yale is casually expelling students with little evidence.
Montague won’t be the first student to sue his school after claiming he was improperly suspended or expelled in response to a sexual assault allegation. Similar cases have been seen at Brandeis University, Amherst College and elsewhere. But Montague’s case could stand out more because of Yale’s high visibility and the fact that Montague can potentially claim far higher damages than most other students.
Besides prematurely ending Montague’s basketball career, Yale’s expulsion of the student was a high-visibility event, kept him from earning a Yale degree he was just a few months from completing, and likely severely hurt the job prospects he may otherwise have enjoyed as a Yale graduate.
It may be worth comparing the case to the Duke University lacrosse incident from 2006, where three falsely accused players eventually settled with Duke for an amount estimated at $60 million.
While Yale is wealthy and could pay off a judgment against them if Montague successfully sues the school for millions, it would put other schools on notice that improperly expelling students could have enormous financial penalties.
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