Last April, Swarthmore students Mia Ferguson and Hope Brinn helped bring two very public complaints against their college, alleging that the prestigious liberal arts institution was in violation of federal law for misreporting and mishandling sexual misconduct cases.
In July, the Department of Education deemed those complaints serious enough that it opened an investigation of the school, which is still ongoing. Behind the scenes, as an increasing number of survivors of sexual assault came forward and reported their experiences to the school, Swarthmore took what many in the college community believe to be unprecedented disciplinary action against alleged perpetrators. Now, one student who was found guilty of sexual misconduct is retaliating.
Last spring, Swarthmore expelled a male student after finding him responsible for sexual assault and harassment. (The case was not heard in court, but through the college’s judiciary process.) In late January, he sued the school in federal court in Philadelphia, claiming his expulsion was a violation of Title IX — the same gender equity law that Ferguson, Brinn and their co-complainants claim the school has violated.
The unnamed student, who has since transferred to another institution and currently resides in North Carolina, makes several central claims. First, he questions the reliability of his accuser, whom he says came forward 19 months after the alleged incident occurred. Second, he says the school closed his case after an initial investigation, re-opening it only after Brinn and Ferguson filed their federal complaints. The implication is that the school’s “rush to judgment” concerning his case was spurred on by a sudden bout of negative publicity. Third, he claims his due process was violated during the judiciary hearing process, as a result of Swarthmore’s “sexual misconduct policies and procedures that disproportionately affect male students.”
The fallout, the suit claims, is that his “academic future, career prospects, earning potential, and reputation have been injured, if not entirely destroyed.” He is requesting that he be readmitted to the school, that the results of his case be expunged from his academic record, and that he be awarded at least $75,000 in damages.
The plaintiff has requested that he remain anonymous. But it is unclear how he will proceed if the judge in the case ultimately denies this request. It’s a relevant hypothetical: A near-identical situation played out in court just a week ago. On February 3rd, three female plaintiffs suing Swarthmore on Title IX grounds (for failing to adequately respond to their claims of sexual assault) dropped their case, which they had brought the previous fall. Why? After the two sides wrangled over the issue for a month, there came a point where the plaintiffs would have had to reveal their names if they wanted to proceed with the suit. So they dropped the suit.*
Regarding the more recent case, Swarthmore’s attorney, Michael Baughman, provided this statement: “The College believes that the suit is without merit and will vigorously defend the litigation. In light of federal privacy laws, I will not comment about the specifics of this case, but I can tell you that the complaint does not fully and accurately describe the situation and the College will respond in Court shortly. I can tell you that the College is committed, and always has been committed, to providing all students with a fair process of adjudication in student conduct proceedings.” The plaintiff’s attorney, Patricia Hamill, declined to comment.
The alleged survivor of sexual assault, who is not named in the suit, but whose identity I was able to confirm, said she was not “comfortable speaking up at this time.”
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*This section has been updated for clarity.