In the first of a potential series of legal actions against Duke University, a former lacrosse player filed a civil lawsuit today, claiming a Duke professor failed him because of accusations by a hired dancer that she'd been sexually assaulted at a team party last March.
The university apparently revised the grade upward months after student athlete Kyle Dowd graduated last spring, according to a copy of the court filings obtained by ABC News Law & Justice Unit. Dowd has not been accused of any crimes relating to the alleged lacrosse party assault.
The papers were filed a day after indicted students Colin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann were invited to return to the school following a semester-long suspension following their indictments last spring on charges they'd attacked and sexually assaulted the woman.
The professor, Kim Curtis, said, "I have nothing to say" [about the suit] when reached at her home in North Carolina. Duke University officials said they had not yet seen the court papers and declined to comment.
While the suit won't affect pending charges against Seligmann, Finnerty and David Evans, it is the first salvo in what's expected to be a raft of legal actions against the school.
"When this is over, every possible step will be taken, and we will explore every possible way against every person involved to redress the harm that has been done," Joseph Chesire, a defense attorney who represents Evans, told ABC News Tuesday. Evans was indicted the day after he graduated last spring.
There is widespread sentiment among parents and friends of the 2006 Duke lacrosse team that the university faculty and administrators handled the accusations against its students badly and failed to stand by lacrosse team members as they came under fire from within and outside campus.
Last May a comprehensive report on the school's reaction to the allegations commissioned by university president Richard Brodhead found that there'd been a "major failure in communications" within the Duke administration in the days following the alleged attack. Brodhead did not even learn of the accusations until a week after the March 13 party, from a story in the campus newspaper.
Last April, before charges had been filed against anyone, 88 members of Duke's faculty signed a letter that thanked protesters who'd called the players "rapists" for "not waiting and making yourselves heard" after protesters had gathered outside one of the houses where the players lived, holding signs that read "It's Sunday morning, time to confess."
One English professor, who has since moved to another university, wrote a public letter condemning the "abhorrent sexual assault, verbal racial violence, and drunken white male privilege loosed amongst us" and called for the "immediate dismissal" of the team and its players.
Dowd and another player were enrolled in the course Politics and Literature in the spring of 2006 when the rape accusations first surfaced.
Dowd said in court papers that they had been getting passing grades on their assignments up to then, but after the allegations Kim Curtis, the professor, gave both players -- and according to court documents only those two students -- failing grades of "F" on their final assignments.
Curtis was among the 88 faculty members who'd signed the April letter, which ran as an advertisement in the school newspaper, the Duke Chronicle.
"Initially, Duke refused to entertain any arguments by Mr. Dowd and his parents that the grade was incorrect," according to the lawsuit. The Dowds, who feared that Kyle would not graduate, pleaded with Curtis and Duke administrators to admit their error, court papers said.
"Duke rebuffed their requests but eventually agreed to instead recognize certain credits that Kyle had earlier earned at Johns Hopkins University, thereby allowing him to graduate," the lawsuit stated.
"In the months after Dowd graduated, Duke has since stated that the "F" grade originally given to Kyle Dowd resulted from a 'calculation error,' and has changed Mr. Dowd's final grade to a "D," a grade that still has no basis in reality," the lawsuit stated.