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Bill would criminalize false allegations of sexual harassment, discrimination

House Bill 1256 would make perpetuating a "false and frivolous" accusation a Class C felony.

Eric Murphy
Eric Murphy (Submitted photo)
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BISMARCK – State Rep. Eric Murphy, a Republican from Grand Forks, has introduced a bill that would impose criminal penalties on those who make false allegations of sexual harassment or discrimination under Title IX statutes.

According to the legislation, House Bill 1256, a person who makes such an allegation that is later determined to be “false and frivolous" would be guilty of a Class C felony. Furthermore, anyone who willfully encourages someone to make a false allegation is guilty of a Class B misdemeanor.

Murphy, an associate professor of biomedical sciences at UND’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences, was accused and later cleared of misconduct under Title IX last September, following allegations by a female colleague.

Murphy said he believes the bill has widespread support in the House.

“I think a lot of House members are tired of weaponizing these types of allegations,” said Murphy. “After my own personal experience, a lot of my House colleagues asked me ‘what are the protections against false accusations?’ and I told them there aren’t any.”

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“I’m not talking about a case where it’s really close one way or the other,” said Murphy. “False and frivolous is a pretty high legal bar to clear.”

When asked for his definition of what constitutes a false and frivolous accusation, Murphy said he would not offer a legal definition, since he is not an attorney. However, he said the bill was written to address accusations that he says have no basis in fact.

“This bill isn’t designed to address cases where somebody made an allegation and it could have gone either way,” said Murphy. “This is where there’s literally no support for the allegations, and somebody is put through the hearing process simply because the accuser doesn’t like them, or for political purposes. We want to free up the system to investigate legitimate claims of discrimination and harassment.”

Murphy said he doesn't "have an ax to grind," but wants "prevent people from going through what I did."

“When someone makes a false allegation, they ruin the accused’s life," Murphy said. "We have protections against false accusations from a criminal standpoint, now we have to protect individuals in the public sphere from these false and frivolous allegations should they occur.”

The bill is set for a hearing in front of the House Judiciary committee on Tuesday morning.

"What we're seeing in higher education is the weaponization of these policies," Rep. Eric Murphy, a University of North Dakota professor, said of his bill.

Banish covers news pertaining to K-12 and higher education, as well as county commission coverage.
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