Court Opts Not To Reinstate OU Student While Lawsuit Is Pending

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A federal court has denied a temporary restraining order that would have allowed an Ohio University student to attend class while his lawsuit is pending against OU.

Sophomore Michael Marshall is suing the university in U.S. District Court, claiming he should not have been suspended for a semester because of text messages he sent to a female student. An OU hearing panel concluded that the text messages violated OU’s sexual misconduct policy and constituted sexual harassment, but Marshall’s lawsuit asserts that the policy is over broad and a violation of his free speech rights, and that the decision to suspend him showed gender bias.

Marshall asked the federal court to order OU to reinstate him while the case is pending.

In order to get the temporary restraining order, Marshall had to show there was a substantial likelihood that he would win his lawsuit. He failed to do that, according to Judge George Smith.

“OU’s policy is carefully drafted and narrowly tailored, balancing the need to prohibit certain types of harassing behavior with a student’s free speech rights,” Smith wrote. “As OU points out, (Marshall) has not pled any facts to support his contention that gender bias was ‘a motivating factor’ of his suspension.”

While Smith agreed that Marshall will be harmed by the suspension, the judge also agreed with OU’s argument that the female student also would be harmed.

“While plaintiff’s actions did not make (her) feel physically unsafe, they did cause interference with her academic environment to the point where she finally informed plaintiff of her ‘serious problem’ with his actions and reported his unwelcome advances,” Smith wrote.

Smith also agreed with OU’s argument that university officials should be afforded some level of deference in their disciplinary decisions and processes.

“Issuing a temporary restraining order in this case, and in others similar to it, would likely interfere with OU’s ability to enforce its disciplinary standards,” Smith wrote. “Absent facts or evidence evincing a susbstantial likelihood of success on the merits (of the lawsuit), the court is reluctant to interfere with OU’s disciplinary processes …”

Smith notes that his ruling addressed the request for the temporary restraining order and would not be binding at an actual trial on the lawsuit.