A former University of Colorado student acquitted by a jury of sexual assault is suing the university for gender discrimination, saying CU failed to conduct a fair investigation before suspending him.
William Norris filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court Thursday against CU Boulder for violation of Title IX and breach of contract and against Chancellor Phil DiStefano for denial of due process.
"This action arises from an egregious miscarriage of justice against (Norris) through the University of Colorado at Boulder's flawed and biased Title IX sexual misconduct process, carried out under a presumption of guilt, and willful ignorance of major inconsistences in the (complainant's) false allegations of nonconsensual sexual contact against (Norris)," the complaint reads.
Norris was initially arrested in March 2016 for allegedly sexually assaulting a female student in 2015, but was found not guilty of sexual assault following a trial in October 2017.
But the complaint points out that Norris' suspension left him six credits short of his degree and caused him "economic injuries, the loss of educational and career opportunities and emotional distress."
"Mr. Norris' case is an exemplar of the injustice that occurs as a result of colleges and universities applying a low burden of proof, the preponderance of the evidence standard, in sexual misconduct cases," the complaint read. "Under this scenario, an individual may be found not guilty and acquitted of all charges in a criminal case but may still have his academic and career goals sidetracked or even destroyed."
CU issued a statement on Friday regarding the lawsuit, saying "we strongly disagree with the representations made by Mr. Norris and his attorney. Mr. Norris was treated equitably. The Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance, which investigates and determines the outcomes of these cases, followed the appropriate procedures and conducted an unbiased investigation.
"Title IX investigative policies and guidance have been evolving over the last several years and continue to change. We actively monitor these changes to ensure that our procedures have conformed at all times to the applicable laws. Mr. Norris' attorney improperly equates student conduct proceedings with criminal trials, but they are distinctly different. This case is about a violation of student conduct policies not criminal statutes.
"Our Title IX process is fair, impartial, unbiased and respects the due process rights of all students regardless of gender."
Norris is represented by Andrew Miltenberg, who has represented male students across the country in similar suits against universities.
"This case is a quintessential example of the injustice that occurs on college campuses — a flawed and inherently biased process that the U. S. Department of Education is now rightfully seeking to correct," Miltenberg said in a statement. "Under this star chamber scenario, my client was found not guilty and acquitted of all charges in a court of law, yet his career and academic prospects have been destroyed by the university's wrongful proceedings."
A separate gender discrimination suit against CU and DiStefano was partially dismissed by a judge earlier this year, but within the ruling the judge expressed similar concerns about CU's decision to adhere to Obama-era standards for sex assault investigations.
The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Education Secretary Besty DeVos is preparing new policies on campus sexual misconduct that would reduce the liability for universities and give more rights to the accused.
In his suit, Norris alleges that CU was under pressure during his case because of an ongoing Title IX investigation and a visit by then-Vice President Joe Biden amidst the school's "It's On Us" campaign to "maintain CU Boulder's public commitment to protecting female victims of sexual assault."
Norris attorneys said as a result, the school ignored "glaring errors, inconsistencies and faulty memories to piece together a version of facts that favored (the woman)" in the investigation.
"Concerns with (the woman's) credibility were never raised by university investigators, nor was her account questioned, because CU Boulder trains its staff to adopt a trauma-informed approach which discourages the thorough questioning of complainants in the sexual misconduct process to avoid further trauma."
In addition to damages, the lawsuit is asking that Norris' record be cleared of the suspension, the complaint from the woman destroyed, and that Norris either be allowed to return to CU to finish his degree or transfer credits to obtain the degree.
Mitchell Byars: twitter.com/mitchellbyars