A judge on Monday dismissed a federal discrimination lawsuit against Columbia University filed by a student accused who was accused of rape and alleged the school violated Title IX by intentionally discriminating against him "on the basis of his male sex."
Paul Nungesser, who graduated in May, claimed that Columbia did not protect him against harassment when a female student, Emma Sulkowicz, publicly called him a "serial rapist." Nungesser claimed in his lawsuit that the university destroyed his "college experience, his reputation, his emotional well-being and his future career prospects." The suit was filed in Manhattan federal court in April 2015 and also counted Columbia's president and a professor as defendants.
U.S. District Judge Gregory Woods on Friday dismissed Nungesser's lawsuit, claiming it would "create a new right of action" that would allow students accused of sexual assault to sue a university for not silencing their accusers.
"This conclusion does not leave a student who is the victim of sexually charged slander without any remedy – state laws have long provided claims for defamation and slander," Woods wrote. "But Nungesser has not pursued such a claim here."'
"We are encouraged that today's ruling brings us closer to the point that this litigation, addressing issues understandably difficult for many, can be concluded," a Columbia University spokesperson said in a statement.
Sulkowicz and Nungesser had been friends, but she said that in August 2012 he hit her, choked her, pinned her down, and raped her in her dorm room. Columbia eventually cleared Nungesser of any wrong doing, but Sulkowicz claimed the university mishandled the disciplinary hearing.
Sulkowicz gained international attention when, as part of her thesis project, she carried a mattress around campus and to the graduation ceremony.
In his complaint, Nungesser claimed Sulkocwicz's actions made day-to-day life on campus unbearably stressful and that the university failed to protect him from students' harassment.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Nungesser's attorney, Andrew Miltenberg, said he is disappointed in the decision and intends to "push on and reformulate our complaint."
"Columbia allowed, in fact, it fostered a hostile environment when it allowed Ms. Sulkowicz to protest her loss in campus tribunals by making Mr. Nungesser a pariah, not only within the Columbia University community, but on an international level," Miltenberg said in an email statement.
Nungesser's parents, Karin Nungesser and Andreas Probosch, also released a statement through Miltenberg expressing their disappointment.
"We still believe that it is untenable that the rule of the law ends behind campus gates," they wrote in a statement. "If this decision is upheld, all parents who are planning to send their sons to college should know: innocent until proven guilty no longer applies on college campuses."
Mary Ann Georgantopoulos is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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