Lawsuit accusing college of banning 'straight male' from campus takes a turn
A Title IX official at Montana State University (MSU) has lost her title and has been reassigned during an ongoing federal lawsuit, is ongoing which accuses the Title IX administrator of being biased against a “straight male" during a Title IX investigation.
The director of the Office of Institutional Equality and Title IX coordinator, Jyl Shaffer, had a “change in status” which happened on August 3, and is now serving in a new role at MSU as an adjunct instructor in Native American studies, according to the Idaho State Journal. MSU confirmed to Campus Reform that Shaffer had a “change in status,” but would not comment further. The university said they do not comment on ongoing litigation.
The lawsuit filed by Powell accused MSU of violating his free speech rights, due process and equal protection.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, Title IX is an educational amendment that bans discrimination based on sex during any educational program or activities that receive federal funding.
Erik Powell, the person who filed the lawsuit against Montana State University, was a student at MSU from the summer term of 2014 , through the summer term of 2016. During his time at MSU, Powell was the subject of an investigation by the Title IX office at MSU because of a remark he allegedly made during in a private conversation he had with a professor at the university.
The original lawsuit by Powell was filed in March of 2017., and listed Listed as defendants were Montana State University, MSU President Waded Cruzado, MSU Provost Robert Mokwa, Jyl Shaffer, James Sletten; a former MSU Title IX investigator, and Katharine Kujwa, who was the professor of a class named Contemporary Issues, in which Powell was enrolled.
According to the Idaho State Journal, the lawsuit filed by Powell accused MSU of violating his free speech rights, due process and equal protection.
An amended filing of the lawsuit was filed in early August and dropped some of the defendants, leaving only three left in the lawsuit. Montana State University, Mokwa, and Shaffer were named in the early August court filing.
The Idaho State Journal pointed out that MSU argues that as Schaffer and Mokwa were acting in their official positions at the university, they cannot be sued as individuals and should not be liable for any damages.
As for Schaffer, MSU argues that since she is no longer the Title IX coordinator and director of the Office of Institutional Equity, she should be dismissed from the case.
According to the lawsuit, Powell enrolled in a class called “Contemporary Issues in Human Sexuality” during the summer of 2016, and Katharine Kujawa was teaching the class. In order to complete his studies, Powell had to take at least one diversity course at MSU, and the class taught by Kujawa met that requirement.
On May 24, the class discussed issues around transgender issues and LGBTQ lifestyles, and nobody publicly spoke in opposition of the lifestyles that people in the LGBTQ community practice.
Notably, according to the lawsuit, Kujawa made it a requirement that all students taking the course would sign a confidentiality agreement which states that “students would not discuss or share any information about other students outside of class.”
A student in the class named Myka Perry informed the class that she identifies herself as being a transgender individual, as well as Kujawa informing the class that she identifies as pansexual, stated the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, Powell didn’t want his grade to be docked as result of him talking about his beliefs regarding transgenderism and the LGBTQ community, as he felt this would make the rest of the class feel uncomfortable. Powell also didn’t want to put his beliefs in writing, as he thought they were unpopular.
As result, Powell asked the instructor if he could discuss his personal beliefs in a private setting, which Kujawa agreed to. At the meeting on May 24, the two discussed many hypothetical questions surrounding LGBTQ issues.
At one point, Kujawa asked Powell how he would react if approached by Perry, a transgender student. The lawsuit states that Powell would ask Perry to “leave him alone,” however, Kujawa claims that Powell also said that if Perry continued the conversation, he would “break her face.”
At the next class meeting which was on May 26, the instructor asked Perry to move her seat in the classroom so that she was not around Powell, and informed her that Powell made “threatening statements” against her, according to the lawsuit.
That same day, Kujawa filed a report with the Dean of Students’ office, and Perry went to the Office of Institutional Equality to file a complaint. Perry met with Jyl Shaffer, who discussed the process of a complaint with her.
Sletten was assigned the case, and eventually accused Powell of violating MSU’s discrimination policy. After an appeal of the decision by Powell, the university decided to uphold the original decision by the OIE, and was suspended for the remainder of the 2016 fall semester in which the appeal was submitted. Sletten left his position shortly after the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also states that Shaffer requested from the MSU Police Department a criminal trespass order, which would have made Powell criminally liable if he entered the campus prior to the end of his suspension. The MSU Police Department did not approve the request. Instead, the MSU dean of students office issued a non-criminal trespass order warning Powell not to return to campus until after his suspension period.
Powell appealed the university’s decision to the Montana Board of Regents, but the order was upheld.
The lawsuit asks for MSU to provide Powell with compensatory damages of $75,000, an order that would prevent MSU from enforcing any punishment against Powell, a removal of the university’s discipline from his academic record, and all attorney fees.
MSU contends that Powell has been allowed to return to the school if he agreed to attend anger management and civil rights class. However, Powell said he “made the decision I’m not going back,” according to the Idaho State Journal.
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