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Former Student’s Racial Discrimination Case Against UMMC Medical School Can Proceed, Judge Rules

Dr. LouAnn Woodward speaking at a podium
University of Mississippi Medical Center Vice Chancellor and School of Medicine Dean Dr. LouAnn Woodward is a defendant in a lawsuit that a former student filed in March 2021. Photo by Nick Judin

The University of Mississippi Medical Center expelled a Black male School of Medicine undergraduate in 2019. The 28-year-old, going by the pseudonym John Doe, then accused the school of racism over how it reacted to what he describes as a relationship with a white woman and sued the institution in March 2021, alleging dismissal without due process.

In June 2021, UMMC asked the U.S. Southern District of Mississippi Chief Judge Daniel P. Jordan III to dismiss the case. The judge ruled on March 15, 2022, that the case can proceed while ordering plaintiff John Doe to refile his complaint to conform to pleading requirements.

John Doe named six UMMC employees in the original complaint in both their individual capacity—meaning they could have to pay damages to him from their pockets if he wins—and official capacity, meaning the school could have to pay on their behalf.

Shadow of a man on the wall
Pictured is John Doe’s silhouette. His lawsuit against the University of Mississippi Medical Center alleging that the school wrongly terminated his studentship in 2019 does not identify him by name, or the woman student with whom he says he had a relationship.

In his ruling, the judge dismissed the University of Mississippi and the Board of Trustees for the Mississippi State Institutions of Higher Learning as defendants, and he dismissed the conspiracy allegation against the other individuals. He did not dismiss UMMC as a defendant but dismissed the official capacity claims against those named in the complaint except UMMC Vice Chancellor and School of Medicine Dean Dr. LouAnn Woodward. In his March 15, 2022, order, Judge Jordan wrote: “Plaintiff has arguably identified Woodward as the sole individual defendant capable of enforcement of the relief requested.”

The judge signaled that individual-capacity claims against the rest could proceed and initially gave the plaintiff three weeks to file an amended complaint, which he extended three more weeks until April 25, 2022, after the plaintiff asked for it.

The plaintiff alleged in his original 92-page complaint and jury demand that the genesis of his trouble was his romantic involvement with a white woman and classmate, identified by the pseudonym Jane Roe.

Judge Jordan, quoting from John Doe’s 2021 complaint, wrote that Doe claimed to have been wrongly expelled based on a “false accusation of sexual misconduct and unprofessional behavior.”

“He believes his expulsion was ‘punish[ment] for being a Black man who dates a white woman,’” Judge Jordan added.

John Doe did not list Jane Roe as a defendant in the complaint. Therefore, the Mississippi Free Press could not contact her lawyer for comments. Attorney J. Cal Mayo Jr. of Mayo Mallette PLLC represented UMMC and all other defendants that the complaint identified as staff of the school at the time of the incident. Mayo did not reply to emails sent to him on Friday, March 25, 2022, and Monday, March 28, 2022, and to two voice messages left at his office on both days.

In an email dated Nov. 10, 2021, Mayo wrote: “I understand you have been referred to a representative of the Medical Center for any comments about this matter.”

A UMMC communication official wrote in an email to the Mississippi Free Press on March 28, 2022, that “The Medical Center does not comment on pending litigation.” Also, Office of Communications and Marketing Executive Director Marc Rolph told the Mississippi Free Press over the phone on March 28, 2022, that “we don’t comment on cases.”

John Doe’s Version: How It Started

John Doe, a Jackson, Miss., native, completed a master’s degree in biomedical science at UMMC and graduated at the top of his class when he finished with a 3.94 GPA, the complaint indicated. He enrolled in the medical school in August 2018 with a six-figure scholarship from the school.

John Doe said in the complaint that he developed a relationship with Jane Roe starting January 2019 at the beginning of the second semester of the first year of medical school. “[T]he first-year medical students grew close, shared emotional, intimate conversations and engaged in consensual physical, sexual contact,” Doe’s complaint, filed by attorneys Nicholas E. Lewis and Joel F. Dillard, continued.

Doe said in the complaint that Roe informed him during their relationship that she was engaged to be married to another man. The particular time that Roe informed Doe of her relationship status is unclear from the complaint.

Aerial view of the UMMC Campus.
In his March 2021 complaint against the University of Mississippi Medical Center, a plaintiff calling himself John Doe claimed the school wrongly dismissed him. Photo courtesy UMMC News Facebook

Judge Jordan summarized the plaintiff’s version of how the relationship progressed based on Doe’s legal complaint. Doe, the judge wrote, claimed that Roe felt guilty for cheating on her fiancé “after four months of texting, flirting, and engaging in consensual sexual relations” with Doe. The plaintiff wrote that Jane Roe then made “egregious, false allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment” against him to end their relationship, expel him from school, and keep her “transgressions” hidden from others, including her fiancé.

Doe’s complaint, which represents just one side of a legal dispute, alleged that two of Roe’s classmates, identified simply as Sam (a friend of her fiancé) and Karam, brought her allegations to then-UMMC Associate Dean for Student Affairs Jerry Clark on April 8, 2019. Clark retired from the school in May 2020. Doe’s complaint states that Clark was Jane Roe’s adviser.

John Doe did not name Sam and Karam as defendants in the complaint; therefore, the Mississippi Free Press could not reach their attorneys for comments. After this reporter reached out to Clark in an April 7, 2022, text message and left a voice message, Clark wrote in a reply text shortly afterward, “Please direct all questions to Marc Rolph, UMMC Communications,” and provided Rolph’s email address.

“Upon hearing the allegations, Clark, without first speaking to his mentee, contacting Plaintiff or investigating the secondhand claims, feared for Complainant’s safety due to the fact that Plaintiff was a Black male, and arbitrarily deputized Sam and Karam as Complainant’s personal bodyguards, directing them to form a barricade between her and Plaintiff,” the complaint continued.

On April 9, 2019, Roe allegedly lodged a complaint with UMMC Title IX Coordinator Pamela Greenwood and her deputy Chris Morgan. At press time, Greenwood and Morgan had not responded to an email for response. Greenwood did not respond to a voice message left on her phone in November 2021. Morgan did not respond to a voice message left on his phone on March 23, 2022.

Title IX is a federal civil-rights law prohibiting sex-based discrimination among institutions of higher learning that receives funding from the federal government. “Initially drafted to ensure equal opportunities for women in sports, today Title IX applies to all forms of sexual harassment and assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking,” the National Sexual Violence Resource Center wrote.

“Title IX is important because the law requires universities to respond promptly and effectively to address any report of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct and actively take steps to prevent it,” the center continued. “Sexual violence on campus is viewed as a hostile environment and thus discrimination, since enduring harassment and victimization prohibits students from equal access to education.”

On April 11, 2019, when John Doe said he was still officially uninformed about the allegations against him, he approached Jane Roe as she sat in the front row before the start of a class and struck up a conversation “from a respectable distance” with her, the complaint alleges. In that interaction, Jane Roe told John Doe “for the first time” that she was not interested in a relationship with him, he states in his complaint.

“Let’s go to the Dean’s office,” Karam told Jane Roe in the middle of that interaction, per the complaint, then. Jane Roe left and returned with both Sam and Karma to the classroom. Doe went to Clark’s office and told him about the interaction with John Roe and Karam’s intrusion and added that he and the complainant would no longer pursue a friendship, among other things, he states in his complaint.

John Doe further alleges that he returned to the class, and received a text from another friend named Sara who urged him to go back to Clark to inform him about the romantic part of his relationship with Doe. He spoke with another friend, Rachael, who repeated the same advice. Doe then returned to Clark’s office and disclosed the romantic aspect of his relationship with Roe, he says, all of which is detailed in his complaint, which represents only one side of a legal dispute.

An Alleged Assault

John Doe’s complaint alleges that after leaving Clark’s office the second time on April 11, 2019, Karam and Sam insulted him in the hallway, calling him weak, scared and soft. He wanted to walk back into the classroom to avoid the confrontation, he says.

“Sam proceeded to block Plaintiff’s entry to the classroom. Plaintiff attempted to peacefully avoid the hostile, improperly emboldened students, but Sam forcefully pushed Plaintiff against the wall, causing a large noise overheard in two lecture halls,” the March 2021 complaint alleged.

“Karam then approached Plaintiff from behind and applied a wrestling submission hold. He pulled Plaintiff’s arms up behind his head and attempted to pull him into the hallway. Plaintiff was thrown to the ground,” it continued.

After the alleged attack, Doe, “anxious and afraid, stepped outside to call his mother and calm down,” the complaint said. His mother came later that day to the campus.

Loretta Jackson-Williams
University of Mississippi Medical Center Vice Dean of Medicine Loretta Jackson-Williams sent a former student a letter telling him of his dismissal from the school for not behaving professionally. Photo courtesy University of Mississippi Medical Center

Later that day, UMMC campus law-enforcement officials, named as Officer Alford and Sergeant Jenkins in the complaint, allegedly approached Doe and asked him to identify himself and patted him down as his mother watched.

The complaint alleges that Clark then asked campus police to remove Doe from the campus, threatened him with dismissal and arrest if he returned, and directed him not to speak with anyone from the campus community. That day, April 11, 2019, was his last day as a student on that campus, the complaint indicated.

A Dismissal Letter

Five days after exiting the campus, on April 16, 2019, UMMC Vice Dean of Medicine Loretta Jackson-Williams sent John Doe a letter. The letter stated that the Dean’s Council had met and decided to dismiss him. The letter, which the Mississippi Free Press obtained, indicated that the School of Medicine Dean’s Council met on April 15, 2019, to consider issues relating to John Doe and referenced “reported instances of unprofessional behavior exhibited by (him).”

Dr. Jerry Clark was University of Mississippi Medical Center Associate dean for student affairs when the school dismissed a Jackson, Miss., native from the school in 2019. Clark left that position in 2020. Photo courtesy University of Mississippi Medical Center

The Mississippi Free Press reached out to Jackson-Williams in November 2021 for comments; she said neither she nor any other defendant in the case can make a comment and directed this reporter to Communications Director Marc Rolph.

Jackson-Williams sent copies of the April 16, 2019, letter to Vice Chancellor and School of Medicine Dean Dr. LouAnn Woodward, then-Associate Dean for Student Affairs Dr. Jerry Clark, Registrar Barbara Westerfield and Director of Student Financial Aid Services Carrie Cooper.

“In accordance with the enclosed School of Medicine Policy on Professional Behavior, the Dean’s Council recommended that you be dismissed from the School of Medicine due to your repeated exhibitions of unprofessional behavior,” the letter said. “The recommendation of dismissal was presented to the Dean of the School of Medicine and approved.”

“As a result, you are hereby dismissed from the School of Medicine, effective today April 16, 2019,” it concluded.

“There was a complete lack of due process prior to Plaintiff’s dismissal,” John Doe said in his complaint.

Doe alleged in his complaint that the Dean’s Council—with Clark, Jackson-Williams, and Vice Chancellor and Dean of the School of Medicine LouAnn Woodward as members—relied on “unsupported, defamatory allegations to dismiss Plaintiff without investigating the claims, serving formal notice of the charges or providing Plaintiff with a meaningful opportunity to defend himself.”

In the April 16, 2019, letter, Jackson-Williams wrote that Doe could send a written appeal request to Woodward within two weeks from that letter.

John Doe said in his complaint that he finally got through to Jackson-Williams on the phone about April 16, 2021, following days of unreturned calls after Clark had allegedly ordered him removed from the campus premises on April 11, 2019.

‘They Rushed the Dismissal’

John Doe wrote in the complaint that Jackson-Williams told him that his dismissal was because of Jane Roe’s accusation and an email from a UMMC employee, a woman who alleged in a 2018 email that Doe had touched her arm inappropriately in an elevator and a classroom. The employee, however, noted that Doe might not be aware that those interactions were offensive. Clark allegedly told Roe that what happened was not a big deal.

The complaint added: “Incredibly, (Jackson-)Williams also stated, incorrectly, she was not responsible for investigation of the professionalism claims, ‘because that is not what we do in the school.’ She, again, claimed the dismissal was ‘preliminary’ and further admitted she dismissed him without due process. The admission was as damning as it was true.”

Photo of the front entrance of the United States Courthouse
U.S. Southern District of Mississippi Chief Judge Daniel P. Jordan III, in a March 15, 2022, order, asked a plaintiff who goes by the pseudonym John Doe to file to amend his complaint against the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and allowed the lawsuit to move forward. Photo courtesy U.S. Southern District of Mississippi

“He was not given appropriate notice of the hearing, full access to the evidence, the opportunity to call his own witnesses or, incredibly, the right to cross-examine the opposing, complaining witnesses,” the complaint alleged about John Doe.

Doe appealed his dismissal, and the hearing took place on May 3, 2019, but the appeal panel was allegedly the same people who dismissed him in the first instance—the Dean’s Council. John Doe lost the appeal.

The plaintiff alleged that Jackson-Williams admitted that UMMC performed no investigation before his dismissal. “The Dean’s Council simply believed the white female complainant, with the false narrative bolstered by Clark,” the complaint said. “As a final indignity for Plaintiff, Williams refused to provide Plaintiff with the reasoning behind the professionalism appeal panel’s decision to uphold the dismissal.”

Title IX Investigation

John Doe’s March 2021 complaint indicated that he only knew about the Title IX complaint against him on April 16, 2019. After the professionalism panel dismissed Doe on April 16, 2019, Doe received notice of Jane Roe’s Title IX complaint against him that day.

Title IX Director Pamela Greenwood and Title IX Investigator Katie McClendon led the Title IX investigation. John Doe met Greenwood and Mark Ray, whom the complaint identified as UMMC associate general counsel, on April 23, 2019, at a law office outside the school. McClendon directed this reporter to Communications Director Marc Rolph.

anatomical model seen from down low with the ceiling behind it
The University of Mississippi Medical Center School of Medicine dismissed a Black medical student in 2019, allegedly as a result of racial discrimination, he says now. Photo by Nhia Moua on Unsplash

John Doe alleged in his legal complaint: “The biased investigators of the (Sexual Misconduct Investigation Team) unit, led by McClendon, conducted a one-sided, controlled investigation, that favored the female complainant completely.”

“The SMIT investigators met with complainant three times, as compared to Plaintiff’s one chance to provide his side of the story,” he continued.

Doe received a letter dated June 27, 2019, on the outcome of the Title XI investigation from Greenwood. The Mississippi Free Press obtained the letter, which says that Jane Roe complained of sexual harassment, which John Doe has denied.

“However, beginning on or about April 1, 2019, the Complainant continued to receive unwanted texts and other electronic messages that were inappropriate and some that were sexual in nature after the complainant clearly communicated that the massages needed to stop,” the letter said. “The Respondent’s actions met the criteria for Sexual Harassment, one of the categories of Prohibited Conduct, in UMMC’s Sexual Misconduct, Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Policy and Procedure (Title IX) for Students and Employees policy.”

“The sexual misconduct policy specifies that ‘[H]arassment of a sexual nature (is one) that is so objectively offensive, pervasive, or severe that it effectively denies the victim access to UMMC’s resources and opportunities, unreasonably interferes with the victim access to UMMC’s resources and opportunities, unreasonably interferes with the victim’s work environment, or deprives the victim of some other protected right,'” the letter read, citing the policy.

“For this reason, we find that the evidence does support a finding that (John Doe) has violated the sexual misconduct policy,” it concluded.

The complaint that Doe filed in March 2021 indicated that Jane Roe had also alleged—for the first time, the complaint alleged—that he had sexually assaulted her in March 2019. “Even the biased unit, however, was unable to find Plaintiff responsible for the physical sexual assaults as alleged by complainant in March 2019, because the evidence, namely text messages provided by Plaintiff, was overwhelmingly in Plaintiff’s favor,” the complaint added, constituting one side of a legal dispute.

The plaintiff shared a large collection of text messages with the Mississippi Free Press allegedly between Roe and Doe, but we have not verified their authenticity.

‘Stark Inconsistencies’?

The June 27, 2019, letter to John Doe, which stated that he was guilty of sexual misconduct, gave him until June 30, 2019, to appeal the decision. He filed the appeal request on June 29, 2019. On Aug. 7, 2019, Greenwood emailed John Doe the Title IX report, which formed the basis of his being found guilty of sexual misconduct in June 2019.

“This was Plaintiff’s first opportunity to see the SMIT investigative report and evidence, after he had already been found responsible,” the March 2021 complaint alleged. “Significantly, the report stated, for the first time, very detailed accusations of sexual assault and harassment. These accusations came from written statements that Greenwood requested Complainant, Sam, and Karam to write up and submit to her office after their interviews. The same was not asked of Plaintiff or his witnesses.”

“However, Greenwood did not produce these written statements for the final report because they contained stark inconsistencies that could have been used to impeach witness credibility at the Title IX hearing,” Doe alleged.

UMMC Campus class building at dawn
University of Mississippi Medical Center dismissed a Jackson, Miss., native from the School of Medicine in 2019. He is alleging discrimination. Photo courtesy UMMC / Patrick O’Brien

After John Doe filed an appeal request on June 29, 2019, and he received the Title IX investigative report on Aug. 7, 2019, the appeal hearing took place on Aug. 15, 2019.

Judge Jordan summarized the plaintiff’s view of the proceeding: “McClendon presented her report but selectively included and excluded communications between Plaintiff and Roe, focusing only on communications that supported her finding.”

“Similarly, while Roe described events occurring in March and April 2019, Plaintiff was told to limit his testimony to April 2019, thereby preventing him from responding to the March 2019 allegations,” the judge continued. “According to Plaintiff, McClendon, Greenwood, Ray, and Eric Hospodor (another associate general counsel) were adversarial toward Plaintiff and worked to intimidate him during the hearing.”

This reporter called the office of UMMC general counsel on March 28, 2022, and left a message for Hospodor. He did not respond by press time.

The appeal panel affirmed the previous Title IX ruling.

Filing the Lawsuit

Judge Jordan said John Doe filed his lawsuit because he believed that the UMMC officials’ actions against him were racially motivated and stated that the school “has a history of giving stronger due process protections to white students.”

John Doe wrote in his complaint that he has information about one white medical resident, “when facing multiple accusations of sexual misconduct, was not officially removed from the residency program until after the conclusion of the Title IX investigation.”

Doe added in his filing: “[A] white undergraduate student of UM was found responsible of rape, a more serious finding than the one Plaintiff was unjustly found responsible and dismissed for, yet said white student successfully appealed his expulsion, which was reduced to a two-year suspension.”

Doe originally listed the University of Mississippi; the Board of Trustees for the Mississippi State Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL Board); UMMC; Jerry Clark; Loretta Jackson-Williams; Katie McClendon; Pamela Greenwood; Mark Ray; Eric Hospodor; and LouAnn Woodward as defendants in the case.

He named all individual defendants in their official and personal capacities and argued that the court should grant his relief claims. He alleged violations of various sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, including denial of procedural due process, denial of substantive due process, racial discrimination and conspiracy to violate civil rights. He also alleged violations of Title VI (Civil Rights Act of 1964) and Title IX (Education Amendments Acts of 1972).

John Doe requested in the complaint that the court direct Woodward to reverse professionalism panel findings and sanctions. He wants the expungement of his disciplinary record and reinstatement as an enrolled student in good standing at UMMC.

UMMC’s lawyers argued for the dismissal of John Doe’s lawsuit, saying that the individual-capacity claims are barred under the Eleventh Amendment, that he did not make a short and clear statement on why he deserves relief.

The judge agreed with the defendants that the plaintiff’s case is inadequate.

“Plaintiff’s Complaint falls short because it says too much and yet not enough,” Judge Jordan wrote. “To begin, Defendants say the Complaint fails to offer a short and plain statement.“

“That’s true,” the judge added. “While Plaintiff says Defendants can simply ignore those allegations when they file their Answers, Plaintiff sprinkled those now-irrelevant allegations throughout the Complaint, making it difficult to discern what remains to address.”

The judge explained that the length of the complaint and the various issues make it difficult to effectively “link the individual defendants to the factual predicates for Plaintiff’s causes of action against them.”

The judge said that asking the plaintiff to submit an amended complaint will give him a chance to eliminate portions of the original complaint, including unnecessary commentary and legal arguments, and identify the facts supporting the remaining counts against the individual defendants.

The judge asked the plaintiff to file an amended complaint to remedy the deficiencies in the March 2021 complaint. John Doe had until April 4, 2022, to do so. On April 5, 2022, however, John Doe, through his attorney Joel Dillard, asked Judge Jordan for a three-week extension.

“Plaintiff has retained new counsel who are preparing the amended complaint for filing in this matter, and need additional time to become fully apprised of the facts and draft the document,” Dillard wrote. “Plaintiff asks that the deadline be extended three weeks, to April 25, 2022.” In a text-only order on April 6, 2022, Judge Jordan granted the request.

An earlier version of this story included a photo of Barbara Westerfield, the former registrar. Though she received an emailed copy of the April 16, 2019, letter, she had retired several weeks earlier. Her photo has been removed from the story.

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