Michigan State University was allowed to suspend a student pending the completion of disciplinary proceedings in a student sexual misconduct case.
These sexual misconduct cases exist in a sort of wild-west legal arena with a fast-changing legal landscape. This case may give universities more confidence to issue suspensions during such cases. However, the challenge to the suspension was very important as universities do not always have a defined set of rules for handling these cases.
What Happened in the Case
The student was found responsible for sexual misconduct following a finding by a firm hired by MSU to investigate the situation. This finding is based on a legal standard called preponderance of the evidence. Following this finding the school issued an interim suspension of the student pending a conclusion of the proceedings.
The university then held a hearing to determine whether to uphold the suspension. In that hearing, the student was unable to challenge the factual findings of the investigation. Rather, the student could only address the issue of suspension pending a disciplinary proceeding.
The university upheld the suspension at the conclusion of the hearing. The student then requested a formal hearing, called a Baum Hearing. This hearing is the result of Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals case allowing for hearings with cross-examination in cases in which witness credibility is at issue.
Previously, students accused of misconduct were not automatically allowed to cross-examine an accuser. Now a student is entitled to a live hearing in which cross-examination of the accuser is permitted if the accuser’s credibility is an issue in the case. These cases are generally of the “he-said she-said” variety, making credibility almost always a core issue.
The student then sued MSU asking to remove the suspension pending the conclusion of the misconduct proceedings.
What the Court Ruled
The Court held that the university could maintain the interim suspension pending the conclusion of the proceedings. The Court ruled that MSU did not violate the student’s Due Process Rights. Essentially, the Court reasoned that full Due Process rights are not implicated with a temporary interim suspension such as here, as opposed to a full expulsion from university, in which standards for Due Process should be heightened.
“If Plaintiff’s position were accepted, there could be no interim suspensions at universities,” the Judge ruled. “Instead, a university would be compelled to throw together a formal disciplinary hearing at a moment’s notice, because it would have no other option other than to allow a student to cross-examine their accusers before taking even temporary action against him or her. Nothing in the law supports such an unbalanced view of procedural due process in the university setting.” Read the Decision Here.
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