Olson v. Macalester Coll.

Docket Number21-cv-1576 (ECT/DJF)
Decision Date05 July 2023
PartiesIan Olson, Plaintiff, v. Macalester College, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Minnesota

Michael Thad Allen, Allen Harris PLLC, Quaker Hill, CT, and Ferdinand F. Peters and Benjamin Loetscher, Ferdinand Peters Law Firm, St. Paul, MN, attorneys for Plaintiff Ian Olson.

Sean R. Somermeyer and Timothy M. Sullivan, Somermeyer Sullivan PLLC, Minneapolis, MN, for Defendant Macalester College.

Eric C. Tostrud Judge United States District Court

Defendant Macalester College expelled Plaintiff Ian Olson after Macalester officials found that he had engaged in domestic violence against, stalked, and harassed a female student who will be referred to as Jane Roe.” In this case Olson claims that Macalester's actions and his expulsion violated federal and Minnesota law. He asserts federal claims for sex discrimination under Title IX and for disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, and he asserts negligence and contract claims under Minnesota common law.

Macalester has moved to exclude two of Olson's expert witnesses and for summary judgment. With one exception, Macalester's motion to exclude Olson's experts will be granted. The better answer is that the experts' proffered opinions fail various rules governing their admissibility. The exception is that, if the case were tried, Olson's psychologist expert would be allowed to testify regarding Olson's mental health including its impact on his functioning and behavior. Macalester's summary-judgment motion will be granted. Olson's federal claims are not trial-worthy because Olson has not identified record evidence from which a jury might reasonably find that Macalester discriminated against him on the basis of sex or disability. Olson's negligence claim is not triable because no reasonable jury could find that Macalester's expulsion decision was arbitrary and capricious. Olson's contract claims fail because he did not defend them in response to Macalester's motion.


The following description of the case's background facts deserves a brief introduction. The facts are lengthy because the record is extensive. Macalester submitted over 1,000 pages of exhibits in support of its motions. See ECF Nos. 80-84, 89. And Olson submitted over 1,000 pages of exhibits in opposition to Macalester's motion. See ECF Nos. 98-99, 101. The volume of these submissions is understandable. Macalester reviewed and considered a significant quantity of information in the course of its investigations, and the record includes extensive electronic communications between Olson, Roe Macalester, and others. The extensive record deserves full consideration. Notwithstanding their length, the following facts are undisputed or described in a light most favorable to Olson. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). To be clear, text messages and emails are quoted extensively-not necessarily for the truth of their content-but more often because these electronic communications show beyond dispute the identities of senders and recipients, what was communicated, and when these communications occurred.

A Macalester, Olson, And Olson's Relationship With Roe

Macalester is a private college located in St. Paul, Minnesota, and it receives federal funding. Compl. [ECF No. 1] ¶ 7. Olson was a student at Macalester from September 2010 until his expulsion on May 8, 2020. A0025; A0061.[1]

Olson was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2011.[2] A0026. Olson's bipolar disorder has manifested in stress-induced manic episodes, including “pressured speech.” A0750. Individuals who experience “pressured speech” feel “an extreme need to share their thoughts, ideas or comments,” often loudly, incomprehensibly, and without the ability to stop. Compl. ¶ 16. Olson's condition also impacted his focus, mental clarity, decisionmaking, and emotional stability. A0755. Olson was prescribed medications for his bipolar disorder and its symptoms. A0983; A0019. On several occasions he was admitted to hospitals and mental health centers for treatment following mental health episodes; he was arrested at least once during an episode. A0019-A0020. He was treated by a psychiatrist from March 2016 through at least May 2020. A0983; A0755. Over his nearly ten years at Macalester, Olson's mental health caused him to take six leaves of absence totaling nine semesters. A0466; A0943-49 ¶¶ 7-30.

Olson and Jane Roe, also a Macalester student, met in the fall of 2018 and began dating in January 2019. A0430; A0565. Roe moved into Olson's apartment in the late summer of 2019 and lived there for about three months. Id. After Roe moved in, Olson and Roe's relationship deteriorated. Text messages between Olson and Roe show that their relationship was strained. A0586 (Olson to Roe: “I AM GOING TO FUCKNG STRANGLE YOU,” “god if you were here I'd hit you”); A0554-58 (Olson to Roe: “YOU WHORE,” “I will leave you worse than homeless,” “I HAVE A MOOD DISORDER YOU CUNT”; Roe to Olson “Find yourself a place or come here and strangle me like you said,” “You're not right rn I'm not supposed to believe anything you say”); ECF No. 98-3 at 5, 9 (Roe to Olson: “I need to be dead,” “stupid fucking hypocrite,” “your [sic] fucking incapable of not oversexualizing your girlfriends”). The text messages also show that Olson repeatedly asked Roe to leave his apartment but that she refused to do so until October 2019. ECF No. 98-2 at 39-78 (Olson: “please find a healthy place to go, it is not here . . . idk how many times to ask,” “right now I need you to go away and find another place,” “you are strangling my ability to say or do anything in my own apartment, and in the meantime calling me cruel and mean,” “YOU NEED TO GO FOR YOUR OWN WELL BEING,” “STOP TELLING ME HOW INSANE I AM AND LEAVE”; Roe: “please come back to me you're not right rn please come back to me,” “please I need the real Ian to come back please,” “So come here and rip me off the bed and throw me out in the hall,” “None of what you're saying is real,” “Get your medication and go like you said”). The couple ended their relationship in October 2019. A0430; A0565.

B Macalester's Sexual Misconduct Policy

Macalester addresses sexual misconduct in its Sexual Misconduct Policy. A0368-A0403. The Sexual Misconduct Policy in place during this case's events had been revised in August 2016 and reviewed in September 2017. A0368. The Policy's purpose is to “outline[] Macalester College's community expectations to ensure a campus free from sexual violence the steps for recourse for those individuals whose rights may have been violated, and the procedures for determining a violation of College policy.” Id.

“This policy is distributed annually to all students and employees of the College” and can also be found at the Office of Student Affairs, the Ruth Stricker-Dayton Campus Center, or on Macalester's website. Id. It applies to all Macalester “community members,” which includes “students, faculty, administrators, staff, volunteers, vendors, independent contractors, visitors, and any individuals regularly or temporarily employed, studying, living, visiting, conducting business or having any official capacity with the College or on College property.” Id. Not only is the policy applicable to conduct occurring on campus, but it also applies to any College-sanctioned events or programs and any “off-campus conduct that the College determines may cause or threaten to cause an unacceptable disruption at the College or which may interfere with an individual's right to a non-discriminatory educational or work environment.” Id.

The Policy defines “sexual misconduct” as referring “to all forms of sex discrimination, including sexual and gender-based harassment, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, stalking, dating/intimate-partner violence, and domestic violence.” Id. The Policy further defines each of these and gives examples of actions that would fall under these classifications. A0372-A0376.

The Policy provides several avenues for reporting sexual misconduct. An individual may submit a report by contacting the Title IX Coordinator, campus security, the Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs/Dean of Students & Deputy Title IX Coordinator, Associate Dean of Students & Deputy Title IX Coordinator, Head Softball Coach/Senior Woman Administrator & Deputy Title IX Coordinator, Director of Center for Study Away & Deputy Title IX Coordinator, or via an online reporting form. A0380. Also, “all College employees who are not confidential resources, who obtain or receive information regarding a possible violation of this policy must report that information to the title IX Coordinator.” Id.

On receipt of these reports, the Title IX Coordinator “will evaluate the information received and determine what further actions should be taken consistent with the ‘Procedures for Sexual Misconduct Complaint Resolution' section of the Policy. A0381. After a report of a potential violation of the Policy has been received but before the completion of the response and resolution process, the Coordinator is to decide whether interim actions or protective measures are necessary. A0386. Appropriate measures are determined on a case-by-case basis. Id.

The “Procedures for Sexual Misconduct Complaint Resolution” section of the Policy details the process the College follows when there is a sexual misconduct report. A0388-A0395. The Policy explains that the first step in most cases is a preliminary meeting between the complainant and the Coordinator. A0388. The purpose of that meeting is to give the Coordinator “a basic understanding of the nature and circumstances of the report or complaint.” Id. During the initial meeting, the Coordinator will gather...

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