William Norris has filed a lawsuit against the University of Colorado Boulder, where he was a student and member of the Air Force ROTC program before being suspended in the wake of sexual-assault allegations that were later rejected by a jury. He claims that CU Boulder administrators violated Title IX and his right to due process, among other things, by way of what his legal team calls "a profoundly flawed and intentionally biased sexual misconduct investigation."
The content of the suit, accessible below, is explicit and may disturb some readers.
In a statement provided to Westword, Norris's attorney, Andrew Miltenberg, writes: "This case is a quintessential example of the injustice that occurs on college campuses — a flawed and inherently biased process that the U.S. Department of Education is now rightfully seeking to correct. Under this star chamber scenario, my client was found not guilty and acquitted of all charges in a court of law, yet his career and academic prospects have been destroyed by the university’s wrongful proceedings."
CU Boulder's take on the controversy rejects these charges. The item supplied by a university spokesperson reads in part: "We strongly disagree with the representations made by Mr. Norris and his attorney. Mr. Norris was treated equitably. The Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance (OIEC), which investigates and determines the outcomes of these cases, followed the appropriate procedures and conducted an unbiased investigation."
The CU Boulder response adds: "Title IX investigative policies and guidance have been evolving over the last several years and continue to change. We actively monitor these changes to ensure that our procedures have conformed at all times to the applicable laws. Mr. Norris’ attorney improperly equates student conduct proceedings with criminal trials, but they are distinctly different. This case is about a violation of student conduct policies, not criminal statutes. Our Title IX process is fair, impartial, unbiased and respects the due process rights of all students regardless of gender."
As alluded to in both of these offerings, Secretary of Education Betsy Devos has called for a shift in the way sexual-misconduct allegations are handled on college campuses. Such alterations are cheered by Miltenberg, who's sued numerous universities in Colorado and beyond on behalf of men accused in such cases. For instance, his suit against CSU Pueblo on behalf of onetime student-athlete Grant Neal ended in a settlement last year, and this past May, a judge allowed part of a claim against CU Boulder from a student known only as John Doe to move forward.
Advising caution in regard to altering the current system is Sarah J. Berg, Deputy Title IX Coordinator of Prevention, Training and Outreach for the University of Colorado Denver and the Anschutz Medical Campus. Last year, she told us, "We shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater. There's still room for improvement, but that doesn't mean we should completely trash everything and start over."
Against this backdrop comes Norris's version of events.
On or about January 20, 2016, the suit maintains, CU Boulder's Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance was contacted by a Boulder Police Department rep, who revealed that a woman referred to as Jane Roe had filed a complaint against Norris. She alleged that in the spring of 2014, he touched her genitals without her consent and sexually assaulted her in July 2015.
Specifically, the document goes on, Roe told BPD investigators that during 2014, she and Roe began kissing consensually before he "pinned her down and stuck his hand down her pants." But the suit contends that her various accounts were inconsistent. In one, she's said to have stopped the assault by way of "a martial arts maneuver," but she allegedly couldn't remember how she'd gotten out of the situation in a subsequent interview.
As for the 2015 matter, the suit states that Norris and Roe "briefly engaged in sexual intercourse — initiated by Jane Roe," which he ended "because he felt guilty about cheating on his girlfriend at the time, who was also Jane Roe's close friend." The next day, when the two spoke about what had taken place, Roe said she didn't remember it because she had been intoxicated — something that came as a surprise to Norris, the suit allows. Afterward, Roe cut off contact with Norris and his girlfriend, presumably because "she was upset about losing her close friend as a result of their decision to engage in sexual intercourse."
He next heard from Roe two days before she went to police, when she accused him of raping her.
As the Boulder police moved forward with the criminal investigation, CU Boulder did likewise in respect to a potential violation of school conduct procedures. Conversations with assorted parties and witnesses continued over the next few months.
Then, on April 8, Vice President Joe Biden made an appearance on the CU Boulder campus in conjunction with the "It's on Us Week of Action," an event in support of sexual-assault victims at colleges and universities. The lawsuit contends that Biden's visit, as well as an ongoing investigation of CU Boulder by the federal Office for Civil Rights, resulted in an atmosphere of bias against Norris. He was ultimately suspended by the university, preventing him from earning the last six credits he needed for graduation and sidelining his hoped-for military career.
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This past October, Norris was acquitted of sexual assault following an eight-day trial.
The suit calls for a judgment against CU Boulder for violating Title IX and Norris's due process rights, as well as breaching his student contract, and requests that he be awarded "damages in an amount to be determined at trial, including, without limitation, damages to physical well-being, emotional and psychological damages, damages to reputation, past and future economic losses, loss of educational opportunities, and loss of future career prospects, plus prejudgment interest, attorneys’ fees, expenses, costs and disbursements."
The court is also asked to issue an injunction against CU Boulder that would require the university to "reverse the outcome and findings regarding Jane Roe's complaint...expunge Plaintiff's disciplinary record...remove any record of Plaintiff's suspension from his education file...permanently destroy any record of Jane Roe's complaint...and confer Plaintiff's degree by applying existing credit hours that Plaintiff accrued to cover the six elective credits that he was unable to complete as a result of his wrongful suspension or, in the alternative, allow Plaintiff to return to CU Boulder at a time of his choosing in order to complete the six credit hours remaining for receiving his degree without the imposition of any conditions for readmission to the university."
Click to read William Norris v. University of Colorado Boulder, et al.