Judge rules for Butler in suit by ex-student accused of sex assault

A civil lawsuit against Butler University brought by a student who claims he was wrongly expelled after being falsely accused of sexual assault has ended with a judgment in favor of the university and other school personnel involved in the investigation.

Indiana Southern District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt entered summary judgment in favor of Butler and eight individual defendants Friday in the case. Christian Ayala filed the lawsuit after he was expelled from Butler at the end of his freshman year following a finding that he had sexually assaulted a female student.

The case is one of a growing number of lawsuits by students accused of sexual misconduct who are suing universities over their punishment.

The incident that led to Ayala’s expulsion began late at night on April 18, 2015, when Ayala and his accuser, identified as Jane Smith, both attended the same fraternity party and began dancing with and kissing each other. The two left the party together around 2 a.m. on April 19, when Smith promised her friends that she was going back to her dorm and would not be staying with Ayala. According to Pratt’s summary judgment order, Smith’s friends were concerned that she was drunk.

Despite Smith’s assurances, she and Ayala returned to his dorm, where the two had sex. In court papers, Smith said she told Ayala twice to stop sexual intercourse because he was hurting her. However, she said, Ayala did not stop, so Smith texted her friends for help.

Smith’s friends eventually forced their way into Ayala’s room to retrieve Smith, who later told her friends that she had asked Ayala to stop, but he refused. Smith then reported the incident to the Butler Police Department, and a sexual assault investigation was opened against Ayala.

The investigation began on April 20 and culminated in a grievance panel hearing on May 14. During the hearing, Smith testified “that she never said or did anything to indicate to Ayala, before their physical contact, that she was not consenting to same,” while Ayala testified that “Jane never gave him verbal consent.”

According to an order Friday in the case relating to a dispute between Smith’s insurers, “(t)he overwhelming evidence presented at the hearing was that the sexual activity between Ayala and Jane Smith was consensual.” However, the grievance panel determined Ayala was responsible for non-consensual sexual contact and sexual intercourse, and recommended that he be expelled. According to the Oct. 17 legal order, Smith’s father began placing pressure on the school to expel Ayala immediately after his daughter reported the assault.

After Ayala’s appeal was denied, he was subsequently denied admission at 10 universities despite having a B+ average. He was eventually admitted to St. Louis University in January 2016.

He sued Smith, the university and school personnel involved in the hearing, alleging breach of contract, a violation of Title IX, a violation of 42 U.S. Code section 1981, defamation, negligent infliction of emotional distress and other state law claims. His claims against Smith and her counterclaims were eventually dismissed.

The court also previously dismissed the Title IX claims against the individual defendants, and Ayala’s counsel agreed that all but the Title IX claim against Butler were subject to summary judgment in the school’s favor. Pratt praised that concession in a footnote, thanking Ayala’s counsel for their “candor and the preservation of judicial resources as well as the preservation of both parties’ resources.”

In arguing against Butler’s motion for summary judgment on the Title IX claim, Ayala claimed one of the grievance panel members, Sally Click, “demonstrated a bias against him and in favor of Jane and the female witnesses through her questions about verbal consent, and through her questioning, Click implied that he was a ‘predatory’ male student who posed a threat to Defendants’ female students.’”

He also argued Click’s questioning was evidence of the panel’s gender bias. Finally, Ayala pointed to the fact that another male student who was found guilty of non-consensual sexual activity was not expelled because he was getting ready to graduate, so his punishment was for his diploma to be withheld for a year.

Pratt, however, agreed with Butler that Ayala’s arguments failed to show any evidence of gender bias.

“Ayala’s comparison between his case and the male student’s case in 2014 where the student’s diploma was withheld rather than expulsion, is not helpful to his claim,” Pratt wrote. “The fact that Butler may have treated another male student more favorably than Ayala does not show bias as the students are the same gender.”

“Concerning Click’s questions during the grievance hearing, Ayala acknowledged in his deposition that Click’s questions were reasonable in this case of non-consensual sexual activity, and he acknowledged in his Response Brief that the questions were not improper,” Pratt continued. “Click’s two questions about whether Ayala obtained verbal consent from Jane to engage in sexual activity did not directly show any gender bias nor did they imply any gender bias.”

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