Campus policy discriminates against men, argues SIUE student accused of rape

A graduate of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville wants the college to rewrite its sexual harassment policy because he argues it discriminates against men, according to the federal lawsuit he filed after a woman accused him of raping her.

SIUE’s investigation and a three-member panel determined earlier in 2018 that the woman was too drunk to give consent when they had sex on Oct. 15, 2017. He was suspended from the university for a year as a result, according to Eric Rhein, the man’s attorney.

Rhein said that the man continues to deny the accusation, and that it was never investigated by police.

The suit notes university employees decided that the woman consented to having sex with him twice in the same morning they determined he raped her, which the complaint describes as “nonsensical.”

The pair had been drinking to the point of throwing up in the man’s off-campus apartment and had sex three times between 2 a.m. and 10 a.m., the lawsuit states.

The man, who is identified only by the initials L.M. in the lawsuit to protect his privacy, wants the university to reverse its decision that he raped the woman at 2 a.m. that day. He’s also asking SIUE to stop using the existing sexual harassment policy, which he calls “obviously unconstitutional and illegal” in the lawsuit.

Katherine Nash, the attorney representing SIUE, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. But spokesman Doug McIlhagga provided a statement on behalf of SIUE.

“The University generally does not comment on pending litigation. However, we do not believe that the plaintiff’s rights were violated, and we will vigorously defend the lawsuit,” McIlhagga stated in an email to the Belleville News-Democrat.

The lawsuit states that the woman who accused L.M. of rape was viewed as a “victim” and that her testimony was “deemed more reliable without reason,” which it points to as evidence of discrimination against L.M. because of his gender.

The suit argues that the woman “did not act like a rape victim” because she didn’t call 911 or local police, she didn’t immediately go to the hospital and because she had sex with L.M. two more times on Oct. 15, 2017.

L.M. believes she leveled the rape accusation against him as retaliation because he didn’t want to have a romantic relationship with her, according to the lawsuit.

SIUE is expected to file its response to the lawsuit by Oct. 8. Nash asked for more time to respond to the 48-page complaint.

The university denied the BND’s request for some records related to the investigation and panel review that are the subject of the lawsuit, saying it would be an invasion of personal privacy to release them.

The only document that SIUE provided was Chancellor Randy Pembrook’s letter to L.M.’s attorney, stating that he was upholding the panel’s decision. The man’s name was redacted in the document sent to the BND.

“This is the final institutional decision pertaining to this case,” Pembrook wrote in the June 19 letter.

L.M.’s lawsuit argues that the accused in “virtually all” cases of sexual misconduct at SIUE are men who are discriminated against because, under its sexual harassment policy:

They aren’t able to refuse to answer questions during the investigation. The policy states they are “responsible for participating in the investigation process.”

They have limited time — five days — to respond to the allegations and to appeal the investigator’s decision, which will lead to a hearing and panel review.

They aren’t allowed to directly question their accusers during the hearing. Questions have to be submitted to the panel, according to the policy. They can bring legal representation, but the attorney can’t “speak or participate directly in any hearing.”

“Despite the significantly lower penalties for violation of the school’s sex harassment policies, the accused has less rights than an accused rapist charged with probable cause,” the lawsuit states.

An appeals court recently ruled in a lawsuit against the University of Michigan that students or their attorneys should be able to question their accusers in sexual assault cases, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The New York Times has reported that U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ drafted changes to the rules for sexual misconduct cases on college campuses include requiring the cross-examination of accusers.

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes