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Students Accused of Rape Can Fight Back // Court OKs Suits Against University, Employees, and Female
With so much attention focused on alleged failures to prosecute students accused of date rape, the problem of universities whose judicial proceedings are unfair to the accused have been largely overlooked
But now a new judicial ruling gives those wrongly convicted a powerful new weapon - they can sue the university, the employees who participated in the proceedings, and even the accused herself in federal court for substantial monetary damages and other remedies, notes public interest law professor John Banzhaf, who was twice called a “radical feminist.”
After a school tribunal at Saint Joseph's University found a male student to have committed sexual assault arising out of an incident of allegedly consensual sexual intercourse, he took legal action, says Banzhaf, who has been successful in over 100 sex discrimination proceedings.
The federal court held that he was entitled to sue the private university under the state's Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, and that he could also sue the university, university employees, and the female complainant for defamation (slander), with the court holding that their accusatory statements about him were not legally privileged.
Interestingly, the court said that he could also sue the female complainant for intentionally interfering with his contractual relations with the school; an important ruling, suggests Banzhaf, because for such an intentional tort he can seek much higher punitive damages in addition to general damages. Also, the court ruled that the mere fact that the tribunal found that the male student had committed the wrongful act complained of was not conclusive as to his guilt or innocence, and did not shield the female complainant from this type of legal liability.
Several additional claims by the plaintiff were not accepted by the court on the basis of the complaint which had been filed, but the court said that the male student was not precluded from bringing up these claims again, provided they were properly pleaded.
These claims included, said Banzhaf: breach of contract, violation of Title IX (discrimination against him by the school on the basis of his gender), negligence, making public statements which place him in a false light, and intentional infliction of emotional distress (which might also warrant punitive damages).
"Female university students in 'he said, she said' rape and sexual assault cases, who were dissatisfied with the way the school handled the situation, are increasingly seeking legal remedies.
But now men who feel that the pendulum has swung too far, or that they were not treated fairly in school judicial proceedings, suddenly also have powerful legal weapons on their side.
Also, says Banzhaf, it is likely that some attorneys will take these cases on a contingency fee basis, so that both rich and poor students can go after both the universities and any women who improperly accuse them. Female students, knowing that they may have to repeat their allegations under oath in open court, may think carefully before bringing any unfounded charges, he predicts.
JOHN F. BANZHAF III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D.
Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
2000 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20052, USA
(202) 994-7229 // (703) 527-8418
GWU Law School