A Yale student expelled from the university even after being found not guilty of sexual assault by a jury is suing the school for $110 million, according to a federal lawsuit filed Friday.
Saifullah Khan, 26, was expelled by Yale following an allegation that he had assaulted a female student on Halloween 2015. Yet in March 2018, Khan was found not guilty by a Connecticut court on four counts of raping the student. Nonetheless, after conducting its own campus trial, the university permanently banned Khan from campus in January 2019.
Khan’s lawsuit seeks compensatory damages “for his lost opportunities,” and punitive damages “necessary to deter the defendants from misconduct in the future.” The suit does not distinguish the amount sought for each.
“The manner in which I was recruited and then cast aside was deeply confusing and painful,” said Khan, who was born in an Afghanistan refugee camp and offered a full ride to Yale, in an e-mail to The College Fix. “I trusted Yale to do the right thing but [they] did not.”
Yale spokeswoman Karen Peart declined to comment to The Fix. Last week, Peart declined comment to the Hartford Courant, saying she had not yet seen the complaint.
Central to Khan’s claim against Yale is the manner in which the school investigated the alleged sexual assault. The university convened a panel to determine Khan’s fate in November 2018, following his second suspension from the university. (He had been accused of sexual assault against a non-Yale male during a threesome in Washington, D.C., in summer 2018.)
During the hearing, Khan’s Yale accuser was able to teleconference in by Skype, and Khan’s attorney was not able to ask her any questions or cross-examine her in any way – a process that had led to Khan’s exoneration in the criminal trial.
Khan was not allowed in the room while the Yale panel asked his accuser questions. Instead he was relegated to an anteroom where he could listen to an audio feed of the proceedings.
When Khan was questioned by the Yale panel, he was not allowed any assistance by a lawyer, according to the lawsuit. While he was allowed to have a counselor present, the counselor “could neither pose questions to witnesses,” “tender objections when panel members repeatedly asked compound questions,” or object when panel members “assumed facts not in evidence.”
Further, the proceedings were not recorded, as Khan requested.
According to the lawsuit, the denial of these procedural rights “transformed the hearing process into little more than the stillbom delivery of a predetermined outcome.”
“The right of counsel to present a defense, and to protect Mr. Khan from procedural and evidentiary unfairness, was a critical factor in his successful defense of the criminal charges arising from his accuser’s accusations,” writes Khan attorney Norm Pattis in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges Khan has been caught up in a culture of “precious unctuousness” at Yale, where students making accusations of sexual assault are presumed to be telling the truth.
“The campus is also in the thrall of various claims of identity entitlement, rendering the campus less a place of unbridled intellectual stimulation and more a smug hothouse catering to social justice warriors intent on remaking the world in their own image,” reads the lawsuit.
Throughout the process, Khan has maintained the 2015 sexual encounter was consensual, and the female student was simply having remorse after a drunken hookup.
“Their encounter was the sort of casual encounter encouraged and fostered by the university, which distributes condoms at various locations in the dormitories located on campus,” reads the lawsuit.
The complaint offers evidence that the female student was interested in Khan, citing text messages she had sent him in the days leading up to the Halloween encounter – one which included a Shakespearean sonnet.
The lawsuit further alleges that the revealing cat costume the female student wore for Halloween that night was “provocative.”
“The university turns a blind eye to the consumption of alcohol by minors on campus, realizing full well that excessive drinking makes students more reckless in the consent they give to others to engage in sexual conduct,” the lawsuit alleges.
As a result of his expulsion, the lawsuit argues Khan might be deported to his native Afghanistan, where, due to the Taliban, Khan says he “faces grave physical danger.”
Further, as Brooklyn College Professor KC Johnson pointed out on Twitter, while the university suspended Khan from the campus to protect his “physical and emotional safety,” Yale simultaneously discontinued Khan’s university-sponsored health care.
“Accountability matters,” Pattis wrote in an e-mail to The Fix. “So does fair and transparent process. Yale’s manner of proceeding in this case was neither. It was also manifestly unjust. Mr. Khan seeks a verdict sufficient to send a message to Yale,” wrote Pattis.
“The UWC panel’s decision to expel Mr. Khan was against the weight of the evidence and was inspired in whole, or in part, by animus toward Mr. Khan and out of a desire to placate those who protested his return to the Yale campus,” Pattis alleges in the complaint.
The lawsuit was filed in Connecticut federal court and assigned to Judge Alfred Covello. He presided over another high-profile due process lawsuit against Yale, by the university’s basketball team captain Jack Montague.
Though Covello refused to reinstate Montague as the lawsuit proceeded, the judge eventually approved breach-of-contract, “basic fairness” and “improper motive” claims for a jury’s consideration. That prompted Yale to settle with Montague.