A male student who is suing Maine’s public university system is currently being investigated by the University of Maine at Farmington for sexual misconduct against four women, one of whom came forward last week, according to the system’s legal response filed Friday.
In addition, the student was the subject of another, now closed, administrative investigation for alleged rape in 2017.
The student goes by John Doe in his lawsuit against the University of Maine System, where he alleges that he is, in fact, the victim of sexual assault, that the university didn’t investigate when he told school employees of the alleged assault, and that he has suffered emotionally and financially from being placed on an interim suspension while the school investigates him.
The university system is defending its actions and the student’s interim suspension. The allegations, “if true, represent a disturbing potential threat to campus safety,” spokesman Dan Demeritt said.
Doe may have alleged he was a victim, but he never identified the woman by name until after she reported his sexual misconduct in March 2019, and he didn’t provide details about the alleged encounter when asked, Elizabeth Lavoie, who is responsible for coordinating investigations into student disciplinary proceedings for the University of Maine in Orono and the University of Maine at Farmington, stated in documents filed in U.S. District Court in Bangor.
The woman, who is referred to as “Jane Roe 2” in the lawsuit, told the school that Doe threatened suicide to coerce her into engaging in sexual contact, threatened to rape her and physically assaulted her, among other things. She also told the Bangor Daily News that the man had frequently threatened to tell others that she had raped him, as a way to manipulate her into doing what he wanted, and provided text messages that showed him doing so.
The university system’s legal response is the latest twist in a story that began when two female students agreed to be interviewed by the BDN about how the University of Maine at Farmington handled their reports of rape under the federal law Title IX, which requires schools funded with federal dollars to act if they know, or reasonably should know, of harassment that creates a hostile enviornment.
The women provided redacted school documents and emails to back up what they described as failings on the part of the university in 2017 and 2018. In both cases, committees found the two different men responsible for rape, and then the results were overturned. Neither of the women mentioned the male students’ names to the BDN, or released identifying information, out of fear of retaliation.
Both women also reported being assaulted to the police, and the Franklin County district attorney’s office declined to prosecute both cases. But the district attorney’s office did release the male students’ names to the BDN. The BDN didn’t publish them because the men weren’t charged with a crime.
But when additional women, who didn’t all know each other, came forward to say one of the men had also assaulted or harassed them, the BDN was able to tie their stories together. It published a story March 5 in which three women who used their names — and another who remained anonymous — shared how the man physically took advantage of them. A fifth described how he continued to pressure her to have sex after she said no. A sixth said she witnessed him harass her friend.
Some of those women, who are described as numbered “Jane Roes” in the lawsuit, later told the school, which is pursuing administrative investigations into the reports, according to court documents. The man was already on disciplinary probation status after the first case; the sexual assault finding was overturned, but he was found responsible for harassment and stalking violations.
To ensure a safe learning environment, under Title IX schools have to follow an adjudication process to resolve claims of sexual harassment or assault. It’s separate from criminal proceedings and doesn’t aim to prove innocence or guilt. Rather it usually involves trained administrators conducting an investigation, followed by a panel of people at the school deciding whether it’s “more likely than not” that a violation of the student conduct code occurred.
David Fiacco, a trained Title IX investigator and director of community standards, rights and responsibilities for the University of Maine in Orono, reviewed the allegations of “Roe 2” and found similarities with past behavior that Doe had admitted to with “Roe 1,” he stated in his affidavit.
“Given the serious, violent, and coercive nature of Doe’s reported behavior toward Roe 2,” he said, in addition to the other allegations and the fact that Doe was on disciplinary probation, Fiacco decided Doe “was likely to pose a substantial threat to the UMS community and that sufficient exigent circumstances existed to warrant an immediate interim suspension.”
The interim suspension took effect March 1.
Lavoie, the deputy Title IX coordinator, told Doe that he was scheduled to meet with Fiacco on March 6 to discuss his response and to determine whether the interim suspension would be lifted or remain in place. In an email she said the sooner he met with Fiacco, “the sooner he can re-evaluate the situation and determine if it needs to be modified in any way,” according to court records.
Doe said he could not attend the March 6 meeting because he was “busy.” He did not reschedule. Through his attorney, he appealed the interim suspension.
After additional women came forward, the investigator met with Doe and his attorney on May 3 at Doe’s attorney’s office.
“During that meeting, Doe refused to provide a statement or any substantive information related to the allegations. Doe’s attorney provided the investigator with some electronic evidence regarding Doe’s counter allegation of sexual assault against Roe 2, but refused to respond to details of the allegations,” according to Lavoie’s statement.
Doe sued the university system Sept. 9. In part, he alleged the University of Maine at Farmington created a hostile educational environment. However, UMF has attempted to allow Doe to continue his studies, Lavoie said in her affidavit.
She has worked “extensively” with faculty to accommodate his situation, she said, and provide a “credit for two history classes in which he received a D grade,” give him “a withdrawal pass for his Spring 2019 classes,” allow him “to take his remaining eight credits in any online course offered by any UMS campus at no additional cost to him,” and make it possible for him to take his thesis course remotely.
The student is “currently in the process of working through these accommodations with us,” Lavoie said.
In addition, following a BDN story about the man’s lawsuit, another woman came forward with “similar allegations,” according to the court filings. The school is looking into them.
Maine Focus is a journalism and community engagement initiative with the Bangor Daily News. Questions? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you or someone you know needs resources or support related to sexual violence, contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s 24/7 hotline at 800-871-7741.