A former student has filed a lawsuit against Bowling Green State University, claiming administrators violated his 14th Amendment rights to due process when they expelled him after an investigation into a hazing incident.
Chase Weiss of Beachwood filed suit in January in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.
The following information came from court documents.
Named in the suit were BGSU administrators Christopher Bullins, Jeremy Zilmer, Maureen Wilson, Jodi Webb and President Rodney Rogers. Four John Does also are listed as defendants.
Judge Jeffrey Helmick in October dismissed all charges against the defendants, except Bullins, who is the university’s dean of students.
Weiss appealed that decision earlier this month.
Helmick has allowed the continuation of Weiss’ charge that Bullins violated his 14th Amendment right to due process by denying him his rights to cross examine his accusers.
Weiss claims he has suffered severe and substantial damages, including diminished earnings capacity, loss of career and business opportunities, litigation expenses including attorney’s fees, loss of reputation, humiliation and embarrassment.
He is asking for compensatory damages, in an amount to be determined by a jury and the court, and name-clearing, injunctive relief needed to reestablish his position and standing at BGSU as it was prior to his suspension, and permission to enroll for admission in the next fall calendar year.
Weiss challenged the constitutionality of BGSU’S disciplinary process and asserts that his due process was denied as a result of an unfair conduct hearing where he was not able to cross-examine his accuser. He also asserts Bullins, who chaired the hearing, and a university code of conduct panel knowingly acted together with bias thereby rendering an unjust decision and sanctions.
Weiss is a former BGSU student who was seeking a Bachelor of Arts degree while attending the university through spring semester 2021. He completed a substantial part of his coursework towards an undergraduate degree and was on target to graduate in either fall semester 2021 or spring semester 2022.
Bullins is named in the suit in his official capacity for declaratory and injunctive relief and in his personal capacity for damages and for civil rights violations. Bullins was responsible for the administration of the BGSU Student Code of Conduct and Judicial System.
On March 4, 2021, BGSU’s Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity hosted a Big/Little event, where approximately 30 individuals were present.
On March 7, new member pledge Stone Foltz, who was a sophomore at BGSU, died of fatal ethanol intoxication after attending the event.
On March 15, an investigation led by special council appointed by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office began. Thirty-two people were interviewed, including seven pledges, 16 active members, one former member, Foltz’s three roommates, three of Foltz’s friends who saw him March 4 and two designated drivers.
On May 14, Weiss received a letter from the university, citing him for violations of the Code of Student Conduct. In June, Bullins gave Weiss notice of a hearing on his alleged conduct charges and later indicated there were eight individuals charged with alleged code violations. Weiss would have the opportunity to present information and cross-examine witnesses and the other students.
Weiss requested separation from the other seven students, based on substantial differences in facts associated with each student. Bullins denied that request.
Five of those charged chose not to appear at the July hearings, including his alleged accuser. As students were not compelled to testify, Weiss was not guaranteed the right to cross-examine them.
The witnesses or other students questioned during the hearing stated they did not see evidence that Weiss specifically aided or abetted hazing. Two witnesses said they did not see Weiss the evening of March 4, 2021, and two said they didn’t know who Weiss was when questioned about his alleged involvement.
On July 12, 2021, Weiss received a letter indicating that he was responsible for all charges brought against him, he was suspended for eight years, a hold was placed on his registration file to prevent him from registering for classes, and that he was prohibited from the BGSU campus.
Weiss appealed July 20, 2021. He received notice July 30, 2021, that his appeal had been denied.
The university was asked for comment.
“Hazing has no place at Bowling Green State University, and we are unapologetic in our efforts to hold individuals and organizations accountable through a fair and thorough disciplinary process. We remain committed to eradicating hazing and this appeal will not distract or deter us from that mission,” said Colleen Rerucha, university spokesperson.
Weiss had filed the lawsuit anonymously, but the judge in October indicated proceedings could not proceed unless he was named as plaintiff.
Weiss’ attorneys argued that numerous courts around the country permit college students to proceed anonymously and this particular matter stems from a highly publicized tragic event. As such, plaintiff would be required to disclose information that is highly sensitive and controversial in the present climate.
Zilmer is the associate dean of students, Wilson is the associate dean for faculty and student affairs, and Webb is the associate vice president of student affairs. The John Does were anyone involved in the disciplinary process, but whose role had not been determined.