Franklin Pierce student-athlete sues school over suspension

  • Franklin Pierce University STAFF FILE PHOTO BY BEN CONANT

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 10/25/2022 4:53:14 PM
Modified: 10/25/2022 4:52:58 PM

A Franklin Pierce University student-athlete is suing for reinstatement and monetary damages after a three-semester suspension from the university due to allegations of dating violence.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court, does not name the student, referring to him as “John Doe.” Doe, according to the filing, is a resident of Minnesota who was attending the university as an out-of-state student. He was awarded a full scholarship for basketball for his freshman year, and was awarded a full scholarship that included both athletics and academics in subsequent years.

According to filings, Doe’s suspension was imposed on May 17, when he was a rising senior. The suit alleges the university’s investigation and hearing procedure violated Title IX – the section of federal law that bans discrimination based on sex in education programs – and the university’s own rules around investigating such incidents.

The suit seeks an injunction against the university stopping the school from enforcing Doe’s suspension and asks for Franklin Pierce to reinstate him as a student in good standing, allow him to continue to participate in campus activities, reverse its findings that Doe violated policies and expunge his record.

The lawsuit also seeks compensatory damages and attorney’s fees in an amount determined at trial.

The university has filed a motion to dismiss in the case, alleging that Doe failed to offer sufficient proof that the university’s decision was erroneous or because of a gender bias, and argued that in fact, the university had ultimately dismissed the majority of the claims against Doe, though it upheld others.

Franklin Pierce Director of Communications Kathryn Grosso Gann stated, "As this is a pending legal matter, we have no comment at this time."

Doe’s complaint alleges that during the 2018-2019 school year, while he was a freshman, he began dating a fellow freshman student referred to in filings by the pseudonym “Sally Smith,” in an “on-again, off-again” relationship through their junior year.

Following a physical altercation on Oct. 27, 2021, Smith filed a complaint against Doe with the university, referencing the specific event that occurred on that date, but the university ultimately held Doe responsible for two violations of the Title IX policy, for “dating violence” out of seven allegations, and for four of seven alleged violations of the school’s conduct code, according to Doe’s filing.

The university did not find sufficient evidence to substantiate any of the sexual assault accusations, dismissing eight of the 14 counts, according to Doe’s filing. The complaint, according to Doe’s filing, alleged “abuse of another student including suffocation, physically dragging the individual, and sexual assault.”

Doe was evicted from student housing on an emergency basis immediately following the complaint, which he appealed the next day, Oct. 28, and was allowed to return to campus.

Doe received formal notification of the complaint on Oct. 29, 2021, which in addition to the incident on Oct. 27, referenced “other forms of physical and emotional abuse throughout [their] relationship,” and “recording and distributing a video without the other party’s consent.”

The complaint alleges that the investigation done by the university was deficient, and did not allow Doe to mount an adequate defense, including allegations that the complaint was too broad and vague and did not reference specific times, locations or events for allegations of longstanding abuse.

The filing alleges Doe did not receive a detailed list of the allegations against him until less than nine days before the scheduled hearing, and that during his initial hearing, he was asked questions about 20 incidences of sexual or physical violence or abusive behavior that had allegedly occurred throughout the course of his relationship with Smith, “without meaningful opportunity to prepare” and without notifying Doe that additional allegations had been put forth.

“FPU conducted the investigation in a biased and unfair manner,” the complaint reads. “FPU failed to give John the same oppor tunity to participate in the investigation that it  gave Sally.”

The complaint also alleges the university did not provide Doe’s adviser with notice and an opportunity to respond to the draft investigation report, in violation of the university’s policy. The investigative report was sent to Doe on Feb. 14, offering him a 10-day window to respond, but Doe’s attorney, who was acting as his adviser in the matter, was not also notified, according to the complaint.

A hearing on a motion filed by Doe is set for Dec. 20 in U.S. District Court before Judge Paul J. Barbadoro.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172, Ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.


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