Judge rules against expulsion from Duke, but degree still up in air
Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith III ruled that a former Duke University soccer player accused of sexual assault shouldn’t have been expelled.
However, the judge stopped short of demanding that the university grant Lewis McLeod the degree that the native Australian needs. A job offer with a Wall Street firm in July is contingent on him receiving a degree, and he can’t stay in the United States without the job.
In the preliminary injunction, filed Thursday with the court clerk, the judge wrote: “The plaintiff is likely to suffer irreparable harm if he is expelled from Duke University pending a final determination on the merits of this action.”
Smith noted in his ruling that it seemed likely McLeod could prevail in showing a court that Duke had “breached, violated, or otherwise deprived the plaintiff of material rights related to the misconduct allegations against him and the resulting disciplinary process addressing such allegations.”
Nevertheless, Smith wrote that he wasn’t ruling on whether McLeod deserved to get the psychology degree that he was banned from accepting at graduation earlier this month. That’s liable to be settled only through further litigation.
University police and the Durham Police Department investigated allegations last fall that McLeod had sexually assaulted a female student. He told authorities that the sex was consensual. No charges were filed.
The Office of Student Conduct took up the case and found McLeod guilty before expelling him from the university. McLeod has alleged that he wasn’t allowed to give his side of the story.
Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations at Duke, on Thursday said the university appreciated at least part of the ruling.
“We are pleased the court recognized the need to preserve the integrity of Duke’s decision not to issue a degree at this point in the lawsuit,” Schoenfeld said. “Duke follows federal legal requirements for complaints of student sexual misconduct and works very hard to make sure the process is fair and just in every case.”
Rachel Hitch, McLeod’s Raleigh-based attorney, could not be reached for comment Thursday.
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