Ga. lawmaker sues U.S. over guidance on campus sexual misconduct cases

A state lawmaker critical of the way colleges handle sexual-misconduct cases has sued the federal government, saying it forces colleges to abide by policies he calls unconstitutional.

Rep. Earl Ehrhart’s lawsuit claims that U.S. Department of Education policies have caused colleges and universities to spend taxpayer dollars unnecessarily, because they must abide by the rules or risk losing federal funding.

Since 2011, the federal department has ordered colleges to adopt tougher sex-discrimination measures or face the loss of billions in financial aid. This tougher approach was spurred by a “Dear Colleague” letter to colleges from the department’s Office for Civil Rights.

Federal education department officials “say the policies are just guidance, but then they threaten to take away (a college’s) federal funding if they don’t abide by them,” Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs said Thursday.

“There are two ways to make laws: the statutory or regulatory route. You cannot make law or punish states or taxpayers based on the musings of an administrative bureaucrat and that’s what we have here,” he said. “They are creating statutory punishment.”

The lawsuit names the federal education department, director John King, its office of civil rights, and assistant secretary Catherine Lhamon.

Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, has been an outspoken critic of the way colleges, specifically Georgia Tech, handles these cases, and claimed that policies at the school on investigating and appealing such cases did not treat students accused of wrongdoing fairly.

Ehrhart’s wife, cookbook author Virginia Ehrhart, is also named as a plaintiff in the case.

“Her son is a freshman at Tech, so he is certainly at risk of being a young, male student impacted by the types of policy that allow for kangaroo courts,” Ehrhart said. “She certainly has a convincing case.”

Ehrhart is represented by Andrew Miltenberg, an attorney specializing in campus assault due-process cases. Miltenberg filed a lawsuit this week on behalf of a student athlete suing Colorado State University Pueblo and the federal education department alleging they violated his due-process rights in what he claims is a wrongful sexual misconduct investigation.