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Federal appeals court reinstates Title IX case filed by dismissed JMU faculty member

Chris Graham
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A federal appeals court has overturned a lower court ruling that had dismissed a lawsuit brought by a former JMU faculty member whose dismissal, in 2019, she says, violated her due process and Title IX rights.

The suit, brought in 2021, involves Alyssa Reid, who was the assistant director of the speech and debate team and a faculty member in the School of Communication Studies at JMU when she was placed on a leave of absence in 2019 following a Title IX complaint filed by her ex-girlfriend, Kathryn Lese.

Lese, a former student of Reid as an undergrad in 2012, who after graduation took a teaching position at JMU involving the speech and debate team, was in a two-year romantic relationship with Reid that ended in 2017.

After the breakup, Lese filed a complaint against Reid in 2018, accusing Reid of engaging in what was termed a nonconsensual relationship.

JMU Dean Robert Aguirre ruled that Reid had violated an aspect of the sexual misconduct policy and suspended her from teaching in April 2019, and an appeal filed by Reid upheld that decision in June 2019.

Per Reid’s suit against JMU, the school’s sexual misconduct policy should have had no applicability to their relationship, because Lese was not under Reid’s supervision, was not a member of the team that Reid coached, nor was there any other relationship where Reid had “the opportunity to pressure or force the relationship on” Lese.

The suit alleges that Reid was precluded from confronting Lese and from cross-examining either her or her witnesses in the April 2019 JMU hearing, and that she was prevented from crafting her defense against what the suit says were ill-defined charges with any kind of precision, because JMU did not provide her with the charges or the evidence.

A district court had held, in a 2022 ruling, that Reid had missed a two-year window for filing suit against JMU to address the dismissal.

In reversing that decision, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a ruling handed down on Tuesday, held that the initial April 2019 decision finding Reid in violation of university policy was not “final,” and that Reid’s appeal of the decision, which was denied in June, was the final adjudication at the university level.

Reid filed suit with the help of a group called the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a Washington, D.C.,-based nonprofit civil rights legal group.

“We are gratified that the Fourth Circuit recognized that in determining when an internal disciplinary decision is ‘final,’ James Madison University has to be held to the words of its own policies,” said Greg Dolin, senior litigation counsel at NCLA.

“The Fourth Circuit’s decision returns the case to the district court where we will continue to vigorously press our client’s claims,” Dolin said.

JMU, through university spokesperson Mary-Hope Vass, declined to comment on the case, citing the pending litigation.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].