A former state university administrator has filed a $50 million lawsuit against Pennsylvania's higher education agency, claiming it fired him for sexual misconduct with students based on unfounded "rumors and innuendo."
Isaac Sanders, who is black, claims he suffered a "public lynching" when East Stroudsburg University fired him a decade ago following an investigation conducted by an outside law firm.
Sanders is seeking $50 million from the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, the agency that oversees East Stroudsburg and 13 other state universities. He also wants his vice president's job back.
The State System "ruined the well-earned academic reputation and personal reputation of Dr. Sanders," the federal lawsuit said.
A State System spokesman said the agency doesn't comment on pending litigation.
One of the students who accused Sanders of assault called his lawsuit a "spit in the face."
"Everything I said was the truth," the accuser said.
The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they were sexually assaulted.
Six students filed suit against Sanders and East Stroudsburg in 2009, but three of the plaintiffs were tossed from the case after a judge ruled the statute of limitations had run out on their claims. The claims of the other three students went to trial in 2014.
The former students, now in their 20s and 30s, said Sanders used his high-powered job to offer them gifts, scholarships and campus jobs, then sexually harassed and assaulted them. Sanders repeatedly denied touching any of the men, and a civil jury ruled in his favor in 2014. He has never been charged with a crime.
The State System's investigative report that led to Sanders' firing remains under court-ordered seal. But Sanders' termination letter, which was made public as part of the students' civil suit, said he had "exercised exceedingly poor judgment" toward the students.
Sanders' suit claimed the State System railroaded him, conducting repeated investigations "for public relations purposes only" and turning him into a pariah.
As Pennsylvania girds for yet another court battle in the long-running case, state officials are demanding that the students who sued Sanders and East Stroudsburg pay $10,000 in court costs — a legal maneuver denounced by their attorney as insensitive and vindictive.
Under federal rules, the winning party is entitled to recoup court costs from the losers. East Stroudsburg — which was dismissed as a defendant in the students' lawsuit long before it went to trial — sought reimbursement for transcripts, witness fees and copying charges.
The court granted East Stroudsburg's request this week.
The former students' lawyer, Albert Murray Jr., said he was incredulous, given the state is targeting people who say they were sexually molested by a state employee. He plans to appeal.
"It's hostile toward victims of sexual assault," Murray said. "It'll make victims of sexual assault not want to come forward. ... Why would they do this against these boys? They're already hurting."
The state attorney general's office, representing East Stroudsburg, said it's standard procedure to seek repayment of court costs.