Duke student expelled for sex assault accusations, sues for his diploma

A senior at Duke University is suing the university for his $250,000 degree after allegations of sexual assault led to his expulsion.

Australian transfer student Lewis McLeod was prohibited from graduation due to a sexual assault that he allegedly carried out on November 14, 2013. According to the lawsuit, McLeod left a local bar with a freshman Duke student and had consensual sex before the woman “got emotional” and began to cry.

The female student filed a sexual assault report with both Duke University police and Durham police the next day. However, both law enforcement agencies investigated the claims and did not pursue criminal action against McLeod.

Duke University’s Office of Student Conduct investigated the matter and found McLeod guilty. He was expelled shortly thereafter.

However, a Durham County Superior Court judge granted a preliminary injunction on Thursday; McLeod should not have been expelled, Judge Osmond III ruled, though the university is not required to immediately give McLeod his degree.

McLeod’s lawsuit states that the University executed a “sloppy investigation” and that the trial “violated Duke University’s own written standards for sexual misconduct and student disciplinary hearings, as well as all notions of fundamental fairness.”

Michael Schoenfeld, Vice President for Public Affairs and Government Relations at Duke University, told Campus Reform that “[t]he university engages an independent investigator, and permits both the accuser and accused student to present their views about what happened to an experienced conduct board…[w]hen the conduct board finds a student responsible for sexual misconduct, it determines whether expulsion or a lesser penalty would be the appropriate sanction, based on the specific facts of the individual case.”

Durham attorney Kerry Sutton stated that Duke overstepped its authority by investigating a case that should have been reserved solely by a law enforcement agency.

“I’m not saying rape doesn’t happen. I know it happens. It’s a horrific offense…[but] I think it’s terribly unfair to impact an accused student’s life, future career, even the pursuit of their degree at this level,” Sutton said.

McLeod had plans to accept a job offer from a Wall Street firm, but it was dependent on his graduation. McLeod’s student visa expired at the end of the semester, and without a job, he will not be permitted to stay in the United States.

"He's asked the judge to intervene so he doesn't suffer irreparable harm. So much time passes between the filing of a lawsuit and the resolution of a lawsuit—in that time, Lewis could lose his visa status and lose his job,” McLeod’s lawyer, Rachel Hitch, told The Chronicle, Duke’s student newspaper.

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