A Durham judge ruled Thursday morning in the case of Lewis McLeod, a Duke senior expelled for sexual misconduct three days before his final exams, even though he was never criminally charged.
After a four-day hearing last week, Superior Court Judge W. Osmond Smith III did not compel Duke to immediately issue McLeod the degree that he says is necessary to begin his job at a Wall Street firm in July. However, Smith also ruled that Duke may not officially expel McLeod unless the university prevails at trial, keeping McLeodand his potential degreein limbo until then.
As the INDY reported last week, McLeod says the sexual encounter with the freshman who accused him last fall of rape was consensual. Earlier this month he sued Duke for breach of contract and asked for a preliminary injunction to prevent the university from expelling him.
McLeod, a citizen of Australia, says he can remain in the country until July 11, when the grace period of his expired student visa runs out. If both parties agree to fast-track the trial, it is possible that the matter could be resolved before then. Otherwise, he will be forced to return to Australia and abandon his Wall Street job offer, he says.
But even if he sacrifices his job, McLeod’s lawyer, Rachel B. Hitch, says the ruling indicates McLeod would likely win at the trial.
“We view this injunction as very hopeful news,” said Hitch, adding, “in our opinion it is an extremely strong indication that Duke has acted improperly, unfairly and illegally.”
Duke administrators, however, are also satisfied with the ruling. “We are pleased the Court recognized the need to preserve the integrity of Duke’s decision not to issue a degree at this point in the lawsuit,” said Michael Schoenfeld, the university’s vice president for public affairs and government relations. “Duke follows federal legal requirements for complaints of student sexual misconduct and works very hard to make sure the process is fair and just in every case.”