A former Duke University student sued the school yesterday, claiming he was wrongly given a failing grade last spring because he was a member of the men's lacrosse team.
Kyle Dowd, 22, who played his first two seasons at Johns Hopkins before transferring to Duke, says in his lawsuit that he was failed in a politics course because visiting professor Kim Curtis was influenced by the sexual assault case against three other lacrosse players.
The allegations, made by an African-American college student and exotic dancer after a March party, had triggered a campus debate about whether athletes were coddled and whether a racist "culture" existed on the team. Neighbors often complained about rowdy parties at a house rented by lacrosse team members.
Dowd's mother, Patricia, of Northport, N.Y., told The Sun that there was an unfair perception on campus that the three accused players - David Evans, Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty - were guilty of something.
She said there was a ripple effect that unfairly tainted the reputation of her son and the other players.
"I think people rushed to judgment. I think that's the biggest problem in this whole case," she said.
Other players' family members have made similar statements, and some have criticized Duke administrators and faculty members for seeming to distance themselves from the lacrosse program after the allegations surfaced.
The prosecutor, Mike Nifong, recently dropped rape charges against the defendants, but sexual offense and kidnapping charges remain.
Duke officials had not yet examined the suit last night and had no comment, said spokeswoman Susan Kauffman. Curtis, reached at her home Thursday, referred questions about the case to the university.
Dowd's attorney, Joe Zeszotarski, told The Sun in an e-mail: "Kyle and his family feel very strongly that he was given a grade not based upon his performance, but rather upon the political agenda of the professor."
Dowd, who was not charged in the assault case, says in his lawsuit that the F he received from Curtis nearly prevented him from graduating in May, even though he had earned C's on his assignments to that point.
Dowd's mother said Curtis "gave two F's on the final paper, and they both went to lacrosse players." She did not name the other player.
"Defendant Curtis engaged in extreme outrageous and unethical conduct ... due to personal bias and prejudice," the lawsuit says.
The university later changed Dowd's grade to a D, citing a calculation error.
Dowd now works in New York City, his mother said.
Dowd and his parents ask in the lawsuit for the grade to be changed to a "P" for passing. They are also asking for $60,000 in punitive and compensatory damages. The lawsuit was filed in Durham Superior Court.
An offensive midfielder, Dowd was one of two freshmen to play in all 16 games for Hopkins in 2003. He transferred to Duke after his second season.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.