Louis C. Hochman/NJ.com By Louis C. Hochman/NJ.com
MADISON — A federal lawsuit claims Drew University discriminated against a student accused of sex assault because he's male — and that its own investigation meandered as steps taken against him ruined his "entire academic career."
Student Kevin Parisi was never charged with any crime related to the sex assault claim, and the school ultimately found him not responsible. But he says the school's investigative practices were punishment in and of themselves, and derailed his college experience and future livelihood.
In an email to NJ.com Tuesday, Drew University spokeswoman Elizabeth Moore said the school was "confident that the university behaved lawfully and appropriately and we are vigorously defending the allegations."
The school will make its response to the lawsuit to the court June 2, at which point the University will "defend these claims vigorously within our civil justice system and anticipates that its handling of this difficult situation ultimately will be vindicated," she said.
In the lawsuit, Parisi claims that he and his accuser had "what was clearly consensual sexual activity on or about September 24, 2013" — toward the beginning of their junior year. The two had been friends, had lived in the same dormitory previously and had sexual intercourse during their freshman year, he says.
The lawsuit describes a night that begins with the two agreeing to be "cuddle buddies" after the accuser and her boyfriend broke up — and then a progressing to more intimate acts, each with specific permission.
But Parisi says his accuser was adamant he never tell anyone — because her boyfriend wouldn't take her back if she knew.
The lawsuit says once Parisi's accuser confessed to her boyfriend about the sex, together they made a false claim to the university that Parisi and the accuser had sex without her consent.
It blames Drew for barring Parisi from all university buildings except the cafeteria and his classrooms while an investigation was ongoing — forcing him to sleep on the "on the filthy floor" of a nearby apartment's kitchen, aggravating his anxiety and digestive disorders. That led to his grades slipping, and his eventual academic suspension, the lawsuit alleges.
And it says Drew's investigation went on too long, as it was suspended while the school waited to hear back from police on their own investigation — started after the accuser and her boyfriend contacted police.
Detective Lt. Dennis Lam of the Madison Police Department told NJ.com Tuesday the accuser never came to police headquarters to discuss her initial claim, and the case has since been closed with no charges.
The lawsuit points to a university policy saying investigations and hearings about alleged sexual harassment or sexual misconduct should be concluded within 15 days — though the policy does allow for extensions.
The "human rights policy" in Drew's student handbook — one of the policies the lawsuit references — also includes statement that "fact-finding may be placed on hold at the request of law enforcement." However, Lam told NJ.com he couldn't speak to any steps the school might take in response to a law enforcement inquiry.
Parisi further blames the school for not investigating his own allegations that his accuser made a false claim about the sexual assault — confiding in a close friend and trying to convince her to lie about it. He also says the school never looked into his allegation the accuser broke a no-contact order to call him from a blocked number, and apologize for "ruining" his life.
It says the investigation — which ended Dec. 17, when Parisi was deemed not responsible by the school — not only interrupted his academic career, but threw into chaos his prospects for a future as a college-educated member of the workforce. It wasted the money his parents spend on his college education as well, the lawsuit alleges.
As the majority of those accused in sex assaults are men, Parisi argues in the lawsuit, "male respondents in sexual misconduct cases at defendant Drew are discriminated against solely on the basis of sex. They are invariably subjected to discipline without the benefit of due process."
The lawsuit says Drew didn't adhere to its own guidelines for investigations, and the "guidelines and regulations themselves are insufficient to protect the rights of male students."
The lawsuit names the accuser and her boyfriend as well — seeking as-yet unspecified damages from both of them, and the school.
Parisi's attorney, Solomon Rubin, has not yet returned a call from NJ.com seeking comment.