Tort Law

Can Law Student Be Disciplined for Suing Accuser? Federal Judge Says Yes


A Vermont Law School student has sued the institution, an official there and another law student over the handling of a sexual assault and sexual harassment complaint in which he was exonerated by an internal code of conduct board.

But Joshua Vaughan’s disciplinary problems may not be over yet. In a recent hearing on a declaratory judgment motion by the law school, a federal judge said the school could pursue another potential internal complaint against Vaughan, for retaliation. The basis for the new complaint is that his federal suit identifies by name the fellow law student who accused him of raping her, according to the Burlington Free Press and a National Law Journal article that is reprinted in New York Lawyer (reg. req.).

However, Judge William Sessions III did not make any finding during the Burlington court hearing that the retaliation complaint is merited, and he is taking the law school’s motion to dismiss Vaughan’s case under advisement.

Meanwhile, expressing discomfort about the possibility of a public trial in which the evidence will likely focus on the two law students’ alleged sexual encounter one night in August 2009 after having drinks at a bar near campus, the judge urged all involved to reconsider, the Free Press reports.

“I would advise the parties to think seriously about resolving this case relatively quickly,” he stated. “This kind of case can go on a long time and hurt a lot of people.”

A lawyer for Vaughan says the defendants destroyed his academic and social life by mishandling the woman’s complaint that she had been sexually assaulted and sexually harassed.

Vaughan says in the complaint that the woman student came back to his room after they had drinks at the bar and eventually the two had consensual sex, then exchanged text messages during the fall semester. Court papers say she has said the sex wasn’t consensual.

Reportedly she told student ambassadors, months later, and the student ambassadors then told a student affairs and diversity dean about the incident. Although the law student said she didn’t want to pursue the internal complaint, the Free Press reports, the official, Shirley Jefferson, decided it should go forward.

In his suit, Vaughan asserts a defamation claim against the law student, a breach of contract claim against the law school, and claims of negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress and willful and wanton conduct against these two defendants and Jefferson.

Vaughan says he has been shunned on campus since the school leaked information about the case to the college community and contends that his grades and career prospects have suffered as a result.

His accuser has filed counterclaims for battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and willful and wanton conduct against Vaughan.

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