A student expelled from George Mason University for violating its sexual misconduct policy filed a lawsuit in federal court to clear his name, arguing that an encounter with a girlfriend was sadomasochistic role-playing, not sexual assault.
In response, the university is demanding that the ex-student identify himself publicly if he wants to pursue his claims.
The expelled student, who sued under a pseudonym to protect his privacy, should have no fear of embarrassment, because "the lifestyle has been recently glamorized in commercially successful film and books, i.e. Fifty Shades of Grey," Assistant Attorney General David Drummey wrote on behalf of the university.
Drummey also waved off arguments that exposing the man could also identify a victim of sexual assault, saying that there was no evidence she could face retaliatory harm. Her "small risk of exposure ... cannot outweigh the public's First Amendment right to have open access to our court's judicial proceedings," Drummey wrote.
A hearing is scheduled for Friday in Alexandria on the university's motion to reverse a judge's decision allowing the student to sue anonymously.
The student said he had been in a long-standing relationship with the woman, and they frequently engaged in sadomasochistic role-playing that involved announcing a "safe word" if one or the other wanted to stop.
Colleges nationwide are under increased pressure to respond forcefully to allegations of sexual assault. The University of Virginia recently implemented changes in its sexual misconduct policy after a now-discredited Rolling Stone article alleged that school officials were indifferent to allegations that a student had been raped at a fraternity party.
The allegations at George Mason stem from an October 2013 encounter the couple shared in the male student's Fairfax campus dorm room. At one point, according to the lawsuit, she pushed him away but didn't invoke her safe word. Later that night, the two engaged in a second sex act, in which the male student asked her if she was interested, and she replied, "I don't know."
According to the lawsuit, the couple remained romantically involved for several months, but broke up after she found he had been cheating on her; only then did she file a complaint against him.
A university panel cleared him of any wrongdoing in September after a 10-hour hearing to determine whether the university's code of conduct was violated, according to the suit. But the woman appealed, and Assistant Dean of Students Brent Ericson overruled the three-person panel, expelling the student.
The lawsuit says his expulsion was the result of gender bias and violated his right to engage in constitutionally protected sexual activity. He wants the violation removed from his student record, and he's seeking $3 million in damages.
"The only explanation for such a rash, unreasoned, and unsupported decision is Mr. Ericson's desire to help a complaining female when the system had found a respondent male not responsible," the student's lawyers wrote. "If Jane Roe (the pseudonym for the unidentified female student) were not a female complaining of sexual assault, her testimony would not have been credited over John Doe's given the evidence corroborating John Doe's explanation of their BDSM relationship and the material concessions Jane Roe made at the hearing."
A GMU spokeswoman declined to comment on the lawsuit.