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Recent grad sues Brown; says U. 'not above the law'

Handling of disciplinary proceedings at issue

A recent graduate filed a lawsuit Oct. 5 against the University, President Ruth Simmons and other senior administrators, stemming from the University's handling of disciplinary action against him.

This is the second federal lawsuit pending against the University for its handling of disciplinary matters through the Office of Student Life. William McCormick III, a former member of the class of 2010, also has an ongoing suit against the University for a 2006 rape accusation made against him that he maintains is false.

Now, Joe Klunder '10, originally a member of the class of 2007, is seeking $2 million in damages from the University, Simmons, Provost David Kertzer '69 P'95 P'98, Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Margaret Klawunn and other Brown employees for alleged infliction of emotional distress, civil conspiracy and violations of the First, Fourth, Sixth and 14th Amendments. The complaint further alleges breach of contract, false arrest and false imprisonment against the University.

The complaint lists McCormick's lawsuit as a related case. If the court agrees the two cases are in fact related Klunder's suit will be tried by the same judge, William Smith.

Vice President for Public Affairs and University Relations Marisa Quinn told The Herald Oct. 5 that the general counsel's office was unaware of the lawsuit. As of press time, she had not responded to requests for follow-up comment left late Monday.

The complaint seeks to have the University declared a quasi-governmental "body politic" — rather than a private institution — making it liable for violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1871. The complaint cites the University's charter, granted in 1764 by Rhode Island's General Assembly, which refers to the University as a "body politic" with the ability to "make laws," and the existence of Brown's own autonomous police force in making this claim.

"Fundamentally," the complaint states, "Plaintiff asks this Court to find that Brown University is not above the law."

Legally, the University holds the status of a nonprofit corporation, according to the Rhode Island Secretary of State's online corporate database.

At Brown, the politically conservative and "psychologically fragile" Klunder "felt alienated in the midst of a liberal student body, faculty and administration," according to the complaint.

The complaint states that in spring 2005 Klunder discussed his concerns about interacting with gay students with Carla Hansen, a former associate dean of student life, and that the conversation carried legally binding confidentiality because Hansen is a clinical social worker. In the conversation, Klunder asked Hansen "about homosexual experiences," according to the complaint.

But Hansen allegedly later disseminated a report of the conversation to employees of the Office of Student Life who were pursuing disciplinary measures against Klunder.

Hansen is no longer employed by the University. Her listed phone number in Providence is currently out of service.

According to the complaint, a month later Klunder initiated a conversation with female employees of Brown's career services at Paragon that the employees considered "inappropriate."

The complaint alleges that any inappropriate behavior by Klunder was at least partly a result of medication prescribed to him by University Health Services.

That summer, Klunder received a letter from Associate Dean of Student Life Terry Addison summoning him to a dean's hearing for "several reports" of "sexually harassing comments."

Klunder then took a two-year leave of absence from Brown.

Soon after returning to Brown in 2007, Klunder was disturbed late at night by noisy members of the Sigma Chi fraternity, according to the complaint. In a later encounter with members of the fraternity, Klunder noted that the brothers who disturbed him were black, and "he further stated that he was concerned that someone would be stabbed during an altercation in expressing his fear," the complaint states.

According to the complaint, these comments were later misconstrued as a threat of physical violence against black students.

Klunder subsequently faced a disciplinary hearing for the alleged threat and for the 2005 accusations of sexual harassment.

He was then ejected from campus by a Department of Public Safety officer and ordered to remain at a hotel until he left the state, according to the complaint.

Two months later at the hearing, Klunder was not found responsible of making a threat, but was found responsible of the other charges and suspended until spring 2009.


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