From the sandstone grandeur of Sydney Grammar School to the Gothic splendour of an elite US university, Lewis Meyer McLeod was treading a privileged path to his “dream job” as a Wall Street banker.
He had completed a $250,000 psychology degree at Duke University in North Carolina and had been offered a lucrative position as an analyst in the famous New York financial district upon graduation.
But the 23-year-old is facing a long and costly wait to find out if he can stay in the US and take up the job, after the university banned him from graduating last month because of unproven sexual assault allegations.
Mr McLeod’s US lawyer, Rachel Hitch, said an allegation alone should not result "in basically the destruction of somebody's future".
The former Sydney Grammar vice-captain and boarder at the all-male St Paul’s College at the University of Sydney is suing Duke University for breach of contract, claiming he did not receive a fair hearing.
Ms Hitch, a partner at law firm Schwartz and Shaw, said it could take “a year or more” for the lawsuit to go to a hearing.
"I think Lewis in in the midst of something that is a huge issue on college campuses across our country and [that] is balancing the seriousness of allegations with the need to be fair to the accused,’’ Ms Hitch said.
In May, the Obama administration took the unprecedented step of releasing the names of 55 universities and colleges under investigation over their handling of sexual assault and harassment allegations.
Duke was not on the list but it was criticised in 2006 over its handling of sexual assault allegations against lacrosse players, who were later found to be innocent.
Police investigated Mr McLeod over an alleged sexual assault of an 18-year old female student in November last year but decided not to lay charges.
Undeterred, Duke University conducted an internal investigation - headed by a student researching gender violence - and decided it was ‘‘more likely than not’’ the pair had non-consensual sex because she was too intoxicated to give consent.
The legal drinking age in North Carolina is 21. Mr McLeod’s lawyers say he did not buy her drinks and saw ‘‘no signs’’ she was drunk.
He claims they had consensual sex after meeting at a popular university bar, Shooters, and taking a cab to his fraternity house.
One of Mr McLeod’s complaints is that the composition of his hearing panel and the training they received was such that the hearing was not fair.
A witness he regarded as ‘‘crucial’’ to his case was told to go home, unbeknown to him, and contrary to his rights he was not told of the identity of a witness giving evidence against him.
Ms Hitch said a student researching gender violence was ‘‘probably not the best person to head what's supposed to be an impartial hearing panel".
She said the panel also received a training manual which contained statements to the effect of ‘‘98 per cent of the time the accuser is telling the truth’’.
‘‘I just want to make it clear: it's not as if Lewis supports violence against women in any way. What we're saying is that ... there still needs to be fairness in process from allegation to decision.’’
A promising soccer player, Mr McLeod has won two preliminary battles before different Superior Court judges in Durham, which restrained the university from expelling him pending the outcome of the case.
Michael Schoenfeld, Duke’s vice president for public affairs and government relations said: “Since this issue is the subject of pending litigation we’ll have to decline comment.”