Duke student, expelled after sex assault claim, sues for degree

Posted May 27, 2014
Updated May 28, 2014

— A Duke student is suing the university after he was banned from the May 10 graduation ceremony because of another student's claim of sexual assault.

Lewis McLeod, a psychology major from Australia, says that, without his degree, his entire future is on hold.

According to the motion filed by Schwartz & Shaw of Raleigh, McLeod took a female Duke student back to his home on Nov. 14. McLeod alleges their sex was consensual and that the woman "got emotional" and began to cry. 

McLeod told his lawyers that the woman later took her claim of sexual assault to law enforcement, and that both Duke University police and Durham police investigated and decided not to charge him with a crime. 

The university Office of Student Conduct then conducted its own investigation, found McLeod guilty of sexual assault and expelled him. 

Duke had no comment Tuesday on the legal motion, which asks that Duke be compelled to award McLeod his degree and let him get on with his life.

McLeod's lawsuit describes a "sloppy investigation" that "violated Duke University's own written standards ... as well as all notions of fundamental fairness."

In the 40-page lawsuit, McLeod's attorneys laid out his arguments against the victim's side of the story, statements from her friends and how the case was handled.

A key argument is whether the alleged victim was so drunk as to unable to make a decision to have sex. McLeod says he and the woman met at a Durham bar and took a cab together back to his house.

McLeod also questions the use of anonymous friends of the woman who provided testimony against him, while McLeod was not allowed to use his roommate as a witness.

"Throughout the hearing, members of the panel and the Office of Student Conduct made decisions that prevented Mr. McLeod from presenting his side of the story, denied him his right to respond to allegations against him and denied him his right to a fair and impartial hearing," McLeod's attorneys wrote.

Durham attorney Kerry Sutton said it was inappropriate for Duke to investigate a case that should have been limited to law enforcement.

"I'm not saying rape doesn't happen. I know it happens. It's a horrific offense," Sutton said. But those cases should not be handled by universities.

Sutton saw the damage a wrongful claim can do when she advised a Duke lacrosse player in 2006. Her client was never charged in the case that drew national attention only to end in disgrace and disbarment for then-Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong. 

"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. "It think it's terribly unfair."

McLeod's student visa expired at the end of the semester, and without a job, he can't stay in the United States. He has a job offer from a Wall Street firm, but it is contingent upon his graduation.

If he can't start that job as planned in July, McLeod's lawyers wrote, "inability to actually assume employment in this prestigious position is substantially certain to negatively impact him forevermore." 

A Durham County Superior Court judge is considering McLeod's case and has kept the door open for him to receive his degree once the case is resolved. McLeod's lawyers had no indication how soon the judge might rule.


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  • myfacelooker May 30, 2014

    Duke is a hostile environment for male students. It's increasingly apparent that sending your son to a place like Duke is child abuse. Duke should just announce that it's becoming an all-women institution and get the inevitable over with.

  • JAT May 28, 2014

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    well, that's just stupid. he didn't go to class but expects a diploma. and yet he got someone to offer a job, and he's a psych major but has a job offer from a Wall Street firm? Something is definitely up there.

  • Susan Olvera May 28, 2014
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    Not found guilty by a court of law but the school wouldn't let him graduate? I'd sue the pants off of that school.

  • James Grimes Jr. May 28, 2014
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    It seems that is a part of his claim. It seems that the Office of Student Conduct Illegally kicked him out, so, therefore, he was unable to attend class, and therefore was not allowed the opportunity to pass the exams. It seems he has a case against Duke being the police, the group with actual investigative abilities, has already ruled. Also, this allegedly happened off campus, which is another issue.

  • Wacky_dood May 28, 2014

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    A question about the last point (moral turpitude) if I may. If the plaintiff doesn't have to demonstrate damages, then how does the court calculate them if the plaintiff wins?

  • Brian Hill May 28, 2014
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    Defamation does not require a deliberate or reckless action for most people.

    In North Carolina, you need to demonstrate that :

    1.A false/defamatory statement was made.
    2.The statement is about the plaintiff (The plaintiff need not be directly named; if their identity can be inferred by even one other person, then it meets the criteria).
    3.The statement was made to other people.
    4.For defamation per quod, the statement caused damage to the plaintiff.
    5.If the plaintiff is a public figure, the statement was made with actual malice. If the plaintiff is a limited-purpose public figure, the statement was made with actual malice if it relates to the subject matter of the figure's publicity.

    Under North Carolina, allegations of a crime of moral turpitude are considered defamation per se which means that they are assumed by the law to be inherently damaging and thus no damages need to be proven.

  • JAT May 28, 2014

    how did he get his diploma if he was expelled? that should have prevented him from attending class. and unless he's friends with someone at the company offering him the job, that seems a bit suspect, too. Let's hear the whole story.

  • 1jalapeno May 28, 2014

    If the Durham police investigated [ not that I don't have questions concerning the behavior and competency of some of its officers] and the DA didn't file a charge then that should end the matter. Why should Duke get involved in any alleged criminal behavior of people who attend school at Duke? We have law enforcement and a justice system set up expressly to deal with these situations.

  • James Kirby May 28, 2014
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    How can her friends be allowed to testify but not his roomate???? that seems really really wrong

  • dennis8 May 28, 2014

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    Difference between criminal and civil. For example, the police may decide there is not enough evidence to charge you will a crime but you can still face civil penalties.