COLUMBIA, Mo. - Lawyers for the University of Missouri are asking a federal judge to dismiss former and current administrators from several counts in a case alleging the school violated the civil rights of a student found responsible for violating a sexual harassment policy.
Jeremy Rowles, a black man and a former Ph.D. candidate in cultural anthropology, believes he was given a harsher punishment than white men accused of similar violations, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in August 2017 in a Boone County court and moved to federal court last December.
Rowles was suspended from all four UM System campuses for two years. He was also banned from residence halls and the rec center at the Columbia campus for life.
Motions were filed Monday on behalf of Salama Gallimore, Andrea Hayes, Ellen Eardley and Cathy Scroggs asking for judgment in their favor on several counts in Rowles' suit. Eardley and Scroggs are former vice chancellors at the Columbia campus. Gallimore is a former deputy Title IX coordinator at MU and Hayes is currently an assistant vice chancellor overseeing Title IX at MU.
A motion filed on behalf of the university seeks an end to the case by claiming there isn't direct evidence of intentional discrimination by the university.
University officials do not comment on pending litigation.
Rowles first met the woman at the center of his Title IX investigation at Kaldi's Coffee in fall 2015, where she worked, the lawsuit says.
The following spring he attended the dance class she taught at MU's Student Rec Center, which sparked more conversations between the two. Rowles continued unsuccessfully to try to convince her to go on a date with him, according to court documents.
"It's really just someone asking out someone else out on a date that made that person uncomfortable, I think it really undermines the Title IX offices purpose in cases of actual sexual assault," Rowles attorney, Andy Hirth told ABC 17 News Thursday.
Rowles took several of her dance classes in fall 2016.
The woman submitted a formal complaint accusing Rowles of sexual harassment in October 2016. Court documents include reports of Rowles pursuing romantic relationships with thee other instructors. The information came from an email from the rec center associate director, though those instructors didn't pursue the complaints.
That November, Rowles was sent a notice that he was being investigated for potential sex discrimination under Title IX, a federal law guaranteeing women equal legal protection at federally funded institutions of higher education.
Court documents said MU's Title IX Office had investigated a different complaint about Rowles in 2015. In that case, Rowles was found not responsible for violating the university's sexual harassment policy after he was accused of inviting an undergraduate student to view test answers in his office in exchange for sexual favors.
Eardley and Scroggs found Rowles responsible for sexual harassment and stalking on the basis of sex and wanted him suspended for four years, according to court documents. However, their successors, Hayes and Gallimore, disagreed and lowered his punishment to two years.
Court documents show Scroggs believed "asking someone out on a date who is physically smaller" qualifies as having power or authority over them, according to court depositions. She said someone's physical size can be viewed at as having power over another person.
Hayes agreed with Scroggs and said "a man's physical size is sufficient" to bring him within the scope of the rules.
Rowles' attorney argues in court filings that he was punished more harshly than white students who had complaints lodged against them, citing statistics from MU Title IX investigations.
"The two white students received substantially lower punishment and its really hard to explain why that would be different except due to the race of the individuals," Hirth said.
The only other student found responsible for the same violations was suspended for six months and banned from residence halls, but not the rec center, according to the filings. This student was also found responsible for non-consensual sexual contact, intercourse and threatening or intimidating behavior.
Rowles' attorney argued his client was suspended "four times longer than a white student who committed sexual assault."