In February of 2012, Jordan Johnson, a starting quarterback on the University of Montana football team, was accused of rape; after criminal charges, he went on trial a year later. His case, and the college town, is documented at length in journalist Jon Krakauer's book Missoula.
In March of 2013, Johnson was acquitted by a jury of "sexual intercourse without consent," the Missoulian reports, and the former football star sued the university, alleging the school predetermined his guilt prior to the investigation, unfairly affecting the results. On Tuesday, Johnson received a $245,000 settlement from the university in exchange for agreeing to "drop his claims that school officials mishandled a rape investigation," the AP reported.
“Officials at the University of Montana—people who were in positions of great power—were unfair and biased," Johnson said in a statement. "Their misconduct made my family and me suffer unnecessarily, both emotionally and financially.
As the Washington Post points out, as universities and the Obama administration take stronger stances against sexual assault on campus, there's been an uptick in men accused of sexual misconduct suing schools for "unfairly" expelling them—according to Inside Higher Ed, there are more than 50 pending lawsuits.
Indeed, cases where students suing the schools that expelled them following a sexual assault accusation have largely been unsuccessful and dismissed by courts. July 2015 saw a sea change. From Inside Higher Ed:
As recently as a few months ago, accused students seemed destined to lose lawsuits challenging their penalties. In May, it was widely believed that there had been just one such case in recent memory—a lawsuit brought against the University of the South in 2011—that made it to court and had a favorable outcome for an accused student.
Though a few cases have seen success in the way of pretrial settlements, including recently at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Swarthmore College and Xavier University in Ohio, many more have been dismissed outright.
Then, in July, a California trial court judge ruled that the University of California at San Diego must reverse the suspension of a male student who allegedly assaulted a female student. The student accused the university of violating his due process rights by presuming his guilt ahead of a hearing, not allowing the accused student access to witnesses and evidence, and informing a hearing panel of his guilt instead of letting the panel reach its own conclusion. The judge in the case agreed.
“Almost every week, there’s at least one more suit like this,” Samantha Harris, director of policy research at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, told Inside Higher Ed. “It’s a very rapidly emerging area of law. Up until this point, it’s an area that has not been super fleshed out by the courts, and earlier lawsuits have been largely unsuccessful. But that’s starting to change.”
Michael Rosen is a reporter for Fusion based out of Oakland.