Former Student Sues Brown U., Saying He Was Punished After a False Rape Allegation

April 12, 2010

A former student has sued Brown University, alleging that he was suspended in the fall of 2006 without a chance to defend himself after being falsely accused of rape by the daughter of an alumnus and major donor.

The student, William R. McCormick III, claims that the university accepted the female student's allegations without investigating, suspended him indefinitely, and gave him a one-way plane ticket home to Wisconsin. The lawsuit also alleges that after suspending Mr. McCormick, in September 2006, the university impeded his ability to gather evidence for a judicial hearing to be held later that fall. Further, it alleges that prior to the hearing, Mr. McCormick was coerced by his accuser's lawyer into signing an agreement to leave Brown permanently.

He did so, the suit says, "under duress and under the implied threat of false criminal rape charges." To date, no criminal charges have been filed in the case, according to the court documents.

The suit was originally filed in September 2009 and was unsealed on Monday at the order of a judge in the U.S. District Court in Providence, R.I.

It alleges that throughout the process, the accuser's father, who "has donated and raised very substantial sums of money for Brown," was in regular contact with high-level university officials and called its president, Ruth J. Simmons, directly. The Chronicle has a policy of not naming alleged victims of sexual assault, and to protect the female student's identity is therefore not identifying her father either.

Barred From the Campus

Brown has asked for the case to be dismissed, alleging that Mr. McCormick did not substantiate his claims, including libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The university also stated in its filing that it had properly handled the serious allegations of rape. "The university and its officers have acted appropriately in this matter," a university spokeswoman said in a written statement Monday. "As in all instances, the university respects and maintains the confidentiality of student and employee records."

In addition to the university, the suit names as defendants the female student, who remains an undergraduate at Brown, her father, and 15 university officials, including Ms. Simmons.

The female student's lawyer, Joseph V. Cavanagh Jr., did not return a call for comment Monday. Mr. McCormick's lawyer, J. Scott Kilpatrick, said he would not comment on pending litigation. He also declined to make his client available.

According to court documents, Mr. McCormick was a wrestler at Brown and had been actively recruited by the university "with offers of substantial financial incentives." Mr. McCormick applied and was accepted for the 2006 entering class. Based on his family's financial need, the university gave him a financial-aid package that covered his tuition and room and board.

In the fall of his freshman year, Mr. McCormick lived in the same dormitory as his accuser. According to the lawsuit, the two students were friendly but not romantically involved. The female student first alleged that Mr. McCormick was calling her excessively and following her around campus, the lawsuit says, and the university issued a no-contact order. The accuser later amended her complaint at the encouragement of her friends, to say that Mr. McCormick had raped her, according to the lawsuit.

The next day, Brown informed Mr. McCormick that he had been accused of "sexual misconduct" but did not give him a copy of the complaint and barred him from campus without allowing him to defend himself, the lawsuit alleges. Among other things, Mr. McCormick accuses the university of violating its own policies for investigations and hearings of alleged misconduct.

The lawsuit asserts that he did not rape his accuser. No criminal charges have been filed in the case and, the complaint says, neither the female student nor the university ever reported the rape allegation to the campus police or the local police.

Mr. McCormick is suing for unspecified damages "in an amount to be established at trial," including compensation for emotional distress, economic injuries, and loss of educational and athletic opportunities.

A 'Mess'

Judge William E. Smith heard arguments Monday on whether to dismiss the lawsuit but did not make a ruling, according to the Associated Press.

The judge told Mr. McCormick's lawyer that the complaint was a "mess" and that some of its claims appeared unsubstantiated thus far, the AP reported. Further, he said, the lawsuit was too vague in describing what each defendant allegedly did wrong.

But, according to the AP, the judge also said he was troubled that the university never alerted the police if it considered the rape allegation credible. According to the AP, Judge Smith said: "The thought that with all the people involved in this matter at different levels, a determination is made to not tell law enforcement, even the Brown Police Department—I'm having trouble getting that."

This is not the first time Brown has faced such a lawsuit. In the late 1990s, a Brown senior said in a lawsuit that the university had punished him after a female student accused him of a rape he did not commit. And female students have sued or complained that the university did not properly handle accusations of sexual misconduct against a professor and a student who belonged to Jordan's royal family.