MSU accused of suspending student for anti-transgender views
A former student is suing Montana State University for more than $225,000, alleging that he was suspended for expressing anti-transgender views in a private conversation with a professor.
The student, who is choosing to identify as John Doe for fear of retaliation, says the university’s investigation on the incident was biased and violated his right to due process, and that his subsequent suspension was therefore discriminatory against him on the basis of sex and violated his freedom of speech.
"Doe was...told he could not be on campus because the school had received a Title IX complaint against him."
In the lawsuit, Doe explains that he signed up for Contemporary Issues in Human Sexuality in the summer of 2016 to fulfill MSU’s diversity requirement, The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports.
The course, which was taught by Professor Katherine Kujawa, required students to sign a confidentiality agreement that they would not discuss information about other students outside of the class.
When the topic of transgenderism came up on May 24, Doe, who is against transgenderism, decided not to speak during class or complete a paper assignment on the topic because he did not want to offend “Jane Roe,” a classmate who had disclosed that she was transgender in an earlier class discussion.
Doe says he met with Kujawa to explain his concerns and ask whether he could earn half-credit on the assignment, and Kujawa asked him how he would react if Roe approached him outside of class.
According to the lawsuit, Kujawa subsequently claimed that Doe responded that he would first ask Roe to leave him alone, and that if she did not comply, he would “break her face.”
Doe contends that this was a misrepresentation of the conversation and that he did not threaten Roe. Rather, he says, he was explaining to Kujawa that the only time he had ever had a violent incident with an LGBT person was nine years prior, when he punched a man for groping his girlfriend, and that his intended point was that he didn’t find out that the man was gay until after the incident.
Regardless, Doe alleges that Kujawa told the transgender student that Doe had threatened her, and when Kujawa asked Roe if she needed to be escorted out of the class, Roe flashed a pocketknife and said she didn’t need an escort. She later filed a Title IX complaint against Doe.
On May 26, Doe was called into the Dean of Students’ office and told he could not be on campus because the school had received a Title IX complaint against him.
James Sletten, the deputy Title IX coordinator, concluded that Kajawa was telling the truth because, as a professor, she was apparently more trustworthy than Doe. Sletten wrote that Doe had harassed Roe and created an unsafe environment for her, which Doe says is “biased” because he had never spoken to Roe before.
After a failed appeal, Doe was suspended for the fall 2016 semester, and was required to never have any contact with Jane Roe, to attend anger management and civil rights training, and to fill out a campus safety questionnaire before he could be considered for re-enrollment.
Doe argues that the entire investigation was unfair because he was sanctioned before MSU had completed its investigation, adding that the university allowed the same individual to both conduct the investigation as well as determine guilt and punishment, and that Doe was not even allowed to question witnesses in the case.
He also says MSU treated him and Roe differently by allowing her to get away with threateningly flashing her pocket knife, and that his freedom of speech was violated because he was punished solely for expressing his anti-transgender views.
Finally, he alleges that Kujawa actually violated the intent of the very contract she had everyone sign at the start of the course by sharing his private comments with Roe.
MSU has declined to comment on the case since it is pending litigation.
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