CHATTANOOGA (AP) — A former student testified in federal court Friday that a disciplinary finding by Sewanee: The University of the South that he raped a female student has damaged him emotionally and socially and he fears it will limit future career choices.
The former student was never criminally charged and contends the woman consented to sex. He is suing the university for at least $1 million in damages. The case is unusually secretive, with the plaintiff known only as "John Doe." The female student also hasn't been identified.
"You have no idea what it's like to be convicted by your school of rape. It is going to follow me the rest of my life," the former student testified on the fourth day of the trial.
Administrators at the private, Episcopal-affiliated college in southeastern Tennessee have testified the university followed its rules in 2008 as it investigated the accusation, conducted a disciplinary hearing and rejected an appeal. The university decided the student, then a freshman, was responsible for raping a female student.
The female student said in a statement for the university's disciplinary panel that she had been prescribed mood-altering medications and was drinking alcohol when they spent the night together in his dorm room in August 2008.
The disciplinary panel agreed with her claim that she was incapacitated.
Records show the female student at one point during the night together answered "yes" when the plaintiff asked "if that felt good" and remained until 7 a.m. the next morning. She then left and called university police saying she had been raped. She was taken to a hospital and investigators prepared a report but there was never a criminal case.
The lawsuit challenges whether the university's disciplinary process was handled according to written policies.
U.S. District Judge Sandy Mattice has allowed the plaintiff to use a pseudonym during court proceedings, based on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act that protects student privacy.
At one point during the trial Friday, Mattice went behind closed doors with attorneys for a discussion. The judge said he was agreeing to the meeting in his chambers because the "private rights of the individual outweigh the public's right to know."
The plaintiff's attorney, Charles Wayne of Washington, D.C., earlier told jurors that his client is an Eagle Scout and athlete whose reputation has been harmed and whose goals, including becoming a Marine officer, have possibly been damaged by the university having "branded him a rapist."
An attorney for the university, Rosemarie Bryan, questioned the plaintiff Friday about his fear of harm to his reputation, asking him about having been punished for drinking beer when he was in high school and whether he had smoked marijuana.
Wayne objected and the judge questioned the relevance of the questioning. Bryan said it shows "he has a history of doing these things" that would also affect his reputation and could come up on military or professional applications.
"Are there any limits to the scope of where we can go with this?" the judge said in cautioning Bryan but allowed her to continue.
The jury of seven women and two men will determine any liability, the amount of any compensatory damages and whether the plaintiff is entitled to punitive damages in the first phase of the trial. The suit seeks $1 million in compensatory damages. If the jury decides there are punitive damages the amount will be determined in a second deliberation.
The trial is scheduled to continue Tuesday.