College cleared of liability in lawsuit
A Bowdoin student who sued the College for breach of contract
over a 1999 Judicial Board hearing heard a Portland jury find against
him last Friday on most of the claims in his lawsuit. He was awarded no
compensation or damages.
After deliberating for over five hours, the jury retuned
a verdict that Bowdoin Director of Communications Scott Hood said was
"an affirmation of the College's judicial process." They found
that the College did not breach its contract with George Goodman '00 in
conducting disciplinary proceedings against him for a March 1999 fight
with Namsoo Lee '01, then a campus shuttle driver. Those proceedings led
to Goodman's expulsion in May 1999.
The jury also found that Deans Mya Mangawang and Craig Bradley
did not "tortiously interfere" with the contract between Goodman
and the College as expressed in the student handbook.
The jury's verdict was mixed on Goodman's claim that both
Lee and the College's administrators were negligent. They found that Lee
was negligent in his role as a College employee, but that Lee's negligence
caused no damages to Goodman. The jury completely cleared the administration
of negligence in conducting the J-Board hearing and expelling Goodman.
The verdict leaves Goodman with little to show for his three-year
legal battle. "We just don't know at this point," said Goodman's
counsel and mother, Collette Goodman, when asked about plans to appeal.
From the beginning of their legal maneuvering, the two sides
saw the 1999 altercation and the disciplinary procedures that followed
it in very different ways, contesting basic facts and statements. Goodman's
original complaint, filed in May of 2000, described the late-night incident
on College Street in terms of Lee's aggression. Goodman, who acknowledged
throwing a snowball at the van Lee was driving, alleged that Lee stepped
out of the shuttle, "grabbed Goodman from behind, spun him around
with such force that Goodman's jacket ripped from the neck opening to
the waist, and then hit Mr. Goodman in the face."
Lee described the incident differently. "It was not
a fight," he said this week. "It was an attack. George Goodman
attacked me." The J-Board agreed with him, and after an April 1999
hearing decided that Goodman alone was responsible for the altercation,
which left Lee with a broken nose and Goodman with an injured hand.
In his suit, Goodman called the disciplinary hearings "unfair,
racist, and discriminatory," arguing that in its drive to promote
ethnic diversity on campus, the administration favored Lee, who is Korean,
because of his race, and that Lee and Director of Residential Life Robert
Graves focused on race at the hearing. Goodman's complaint contains excerpts
of the transcript of the J-Board hearing, including a section in which
Lee said "I even thought about, um, oh, he's being racist or something
I didn't know if he was being racist."
"The College has contended from day one that race was
not a factor," Hood said. The judge presiding over the lawsuit, Gene
Carter, issued a directed verdict during the trial dismissing Goodman's
civil rights claims, saying that no jury could find "direct or circumstantial
evidence of racial animus" in the College's conduct. As a result,
the jury did not deliberate any charges of racial discrimination. Lee
said that "the race issue never came up during the J-Board process."
Goodman also argued that the college violated its contract
with him as described in the Social Code and the student handbook. In
a motion to dismiss the suit filed by Bowdoin in July 2000, soon after
Goodman's complaint, the College argued that the student handbook was
not a legally binding contract capable of being breached, but an informal
guide to Bowdoin's policies. "Even if it were a contract," they
wrote, "which it is not, Bowdoin did not act arbitrarily or capriciously
in dismissing plaintiff."
According to the motion to dismiss, the J-Board's decision
was based on inconsistencies in Goodman's testimony, "the severity
of the beating by plaintiff of Mr. Lee," and an unspecified previous
disciplinary record on Goodman. "This was a case of unacceptable
violent behavior," Hood said. "The process works."
Bradley, the Dean of Student Affairs, also described the
jury's verdict as a vindication for the College's disciplinary procedures.
"Obviously, it would have been a lot more convenient for us to settle
the case," he said. "But for us there's a principle at stake."
He said that the lawsuit has not prompted the J-Board to revise its procedures.
"I still believe in a person's right to sue us, and the right to appeal our decisions," Bradley said.