Friday, February 03, 2017

Private School Suspends Girl Who Sued to Play on Boys' Team

The local news in New Jersey recently reported about the decision of St. Theresa's School in Kenilworth to expel a female seventh grade student and her sister after the seventh-grader's unsuccessful attempts to sue the school for the right to try out for the boy's basketball team. A judge ruled in January that she had no right under applicable law, and the family is appealing.

If this student went to public school, she would have a strong argument that the U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection Clause protects her right to try out for the boys' team, which is the only basketball team offered by her school. The Equal Protection Clause requires state and local governments, including school districts, to avoid generalizations and stereotypes when making any sex-based classification. Under this rationale, female students have prevailed in many cases seeking the right to try out for a variety of sports, including sports like basketball that are covered by Title IX's contact sports exemption.

If she went to public school, the student and her family would also have legal recourse to challenge the decision to expel the student and her sister as apparent retaliation for the family's decision to appeal, since Title IX provides strong protection against retaliation. But the majority of private religious elementary and secondary schools do not accept federal funding, insulating them from the obligation to protect students civil rights. Unless St. Theresa's is among those private schools who participate federal programs to subsidize student's school lunches or to purchase classroom technology, the student and her family cannot rely on this statute for recourse.

Often when I write posts about stories where Title IX did not apply, I make the point that students and their families need to be careful when selecting private schools, since that decision often subjects the student to sex discrimination without legal recourse. But it also a cautionary tale against privatization as a policy matter. If federal support for public schools wains or disappears under the current administration -- a possibility signaled by president's nomination of Betsy DeVos -- more and more families may be compelled to accept private schools as a result. This shift would send more and more students like this one into the void of civil rights, with no statutory or constitutional protections available.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Boy Scouts of America Opens Membership to Transgender Boys

The Boy Scouts of America announced yesterday that it will "accept and register youth in the Cub and Boy Scout programs based on the gender identity indicated on the application." This is a change from the organization's previous policy that looked to the applicant's birth certificate for the evidence of eligibility for membership, and it paves the way for transgender boys to be able to join the organization. In its report on this story, the New York Times underscored the abrupt and marked reversal of course by pointing out that only last month a New Jersey Cub Scout became the first transgender boy to be rejected from the Boy Scouts when he was removed from his troop one month after joining.  

The BSA is not subject to Title IX, but I am posting about this story on the Title IX Blog because I think it sets a good example for school districts and other organizations that may be considering similar policy changes. The Boy Scouts are in a position to be particularly persuasive to school districts because they often meet in and are connected to schools. The timing of their policy change is also useful, as it seems some school districts are using the anticipated repeal of  OCR's guidance about Title IX's application to transgender students as an excuse to reject proposed policies that would protect LGBT students and employees. The new BSA policy proves that even without the government's promise to enforce Title IX in favor of transgender rights, it is still both legal and appropriate for local organizations to do the right thing on their own.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Updates from Baylor, Amherst

An additional lawsuit was filed against Baylor at the end of last week. A former female student alleges she was raped by two football players in 2013 while other players recorded the assault and shared the video. The school took two years to investigate the assault. It suspended and eventually expelled one of the players. The other transferred. The lawsuit, like the others, cites a culture of sexual violence at Baylor; a culture Ken Starr claimed did not exist both while he was president of the university and even after his departure.

New information, though, has emerged from this filing. Previously, we have known about the 17 incidents since 2011 that involved 19 players. The lawsuit states that there have been 52 sexual assaults (within an unnamed 4-year period) by 30 football players. The increase is likely due to the fact that the woman who filed the lawsuit was a member of a campus group organized to show football recruits around during visits. Members were supposed to be available for sex; a tool used to sell Baylor to the prospective players. Art Briles's attorney said the former coach, who himself is involved in litigation with the school, denies such a culture existed under his leadership.

With little attention, Amherst College announced before the start of the current semester, that they had concluded their investigation of the offensive messages sent by members of the men's cross country team. Sanctions include suspensions ranging from several meets to the remainder of an athlete's Amherst career. All members must undergo an "educational process" and the team is on probation until 2018.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

DeVos Won't Commit to Enforcing Title IX

This week, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held a hearing on Betsy DeVos's nomination to be the next Secretary of Education. Until this point, DeVos has not made any public statements on Title IX, so the best we have been able to do is speculate on her view of how the law should be interpreted and enforced.  For example, it seems reasonable to predict that she will scale back enforcement of the statute's application to LGBT students, based on her past, extensive financial support for anti-gay and religious causes.

Though we anticipated that a confirmation hearing might shed some light on the nominee's additional plans for the Department of Education and Title IX, DeVos provided few concrete responses to questions by committee members. Regarding Title IX in particular, DeVos said it would be "premature" to commit to enforcing sexual assault statutes like Title IX and Campus SaVE, in response to questioning by Senator Casey (D-Pa.). She also denied that she had promised Republican Senators that she had plans to "reign in" the OCR.

On other issues, she was similarly cagey, such as when she refused to commit to Senator Warren (D-Ma.) that she would enforce existing regulations that protect students at for-profit institutions from fraud, or when she declined to reassure Senator Murray (D-Wa.) that she not was planning to dismantle public education. In fact, the only of DeVos's positions that is clear is her support for "school choice" which many see as a euphemism for privatization, and for which she and her advocacy have come under fire in her home state of Michigan. She also dodged questions -- about guns, and about services for students with disabilities -- by invoking the mantra of "best left to the states to decide" (though she eventually relented that the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act is in fact federal law.)

Though one Republican, Senator Murkowski of Alaska, pushed back somewhat on DeVos's school choice ambitions -- asking that her commitment to traditional public education was as “strong and robust” as her passion for school choice -- it is evident that DeVos has the support of the Senate majority, and will likely be confirmed next week.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


In Pennsylvania, the hazing case against football players participating in No Gay Thursdays has been settled. Three seniors, accused of harassing/hazing a first-year player, plead guilty to summary harassment. There were discrepancies between what was originally reported (penetration with a broomstick handle) and what was presented during the hearings (pushing a broomstick handle against the victim's leg while they held him down). How the seniors were punished remains unknown. Summary harassment is a citation, not a criminal offense.

As a reminder, No Gay Thursday had been a team tradition for several years. The football coach was initially suspended and then resigned. The remaining football staff was fired; though they were told they could reapply for their jobs. While the actions initially reported seem to have been wrong, the day itself and the culture that created it was still present and threatening. 

There is a Title IX complaint against Liberty University from a non-student who said she was sexually assaulted by a university employee in 2015. The university, which refused to fire the employee after their own investigation into the accusation, said it expects the complaint to be dismissed. But if I was OCR, I would take the opportunity to go to Liberty and find out what is happening with their brand new athletics director.

In November, Liberty hired Ian McGraw, the former Baylor AD who is facing a lawsuit from a Baylor student who accuses him of knowing that former football player Tevin Elliot had a history of sexually assault and displayed deliberate indifference, which led to Elliot assaulting her. Basically, McGraw was part of the Baylor house that got cleaned out when all these things--including additional assaults by athletes and non-athletes, and more deliberate indifference among various campus offices--came to light. Liberty president Jerry Falwell, Jr. is very enthusiastic about his choice: “You look at what Baylor was able to do during his tenure, it fits perfectly with where we see our sports programs going.  This is an exciting time for us.” He also presented McGraw's exit from Baylor as a choice.

I have written frequently about how athletes who commit physical and sexual assaults are often passed around athletics programs by coaches and admins who willfully ignore the issues. I did not think McGraw would be hired so quickly and by another ultra conservative Christian institution. Liberty has set itself up for problems should anything happen under McGraw's tenure. And its moral failings are very much in display with this move. Some in the Liberty community are not happy. Though no students would speak to ESPNW on the record for fear of retaliation. the majority were displeased with the hire and the repentance narrative the school is employing in support of the hiring. Several alum have spoken out, including some who said they would stop donating to the school while McGraw is there.

More on the Baylor swept asides: former coach Art Briles is suing three Baylor regents and one university administrator for libel, slander, and conspiracy. In the lawsuit, Briles claims that the four have made false statements about him in the press. These comments have prevented him from getting another head coaching job, he claims. Not sure how this lawsuit affects the very large settlement Briles received. As part of that deal, Briles was told he could not discuss the cases nor criticize the regents. That was in June. Sometimes there are time limits on such terms; but less than a year seems to be a bit short. Meanwhile, Briles could hit up his old boss for a job. Neither McGraw nor Liberty seem to care all that much about accusations, about character, or the safety of their student body.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Catching up: Stanford

The infamous case of Brock Turner, former Stanford student athlete who sexually assaulted a woman, was found guilty and served 3 months for the crime, apparently has taught Stanford University very little. The mindset of administrators is similar to that of the judge who sentenced Turner--who raped an unconscious woman behind a dumpster and then left her there. There is a fear of ruining the lives of the men who commit these crimes. Consequently, some of them are still on campus and the university is facing lawsuits and complaints about how it handles sexual assault.

[Interesting bit of information: most of the complaints pending against Stanford were ongoing at the time of the Turner case--something we did not hear much about in the coverage of that case. ]

Stanford currently is piloting a new program: using a 3-person panel and requiring the decision to punish be unanimous--not a simple majority--because “being expelled is really a life-changing punishment” according to the provost.The unanimity standard was put into practice in 2016. Expulsion is the only option if the accused/investigated is found responsible.

Two weeks ago The New York Times wrote a feature on Stanford and its handling of a 2015 case in which a disciplinary panel of 5 found a football player guilty of sexual assault--twice.  Correction: a simple majority of the panel members found him guilty. But the standard at the time was a 4-1 decision requirement.  So he was never punished and played last week in Stanford's bowl game. The victim, who studied elsewhere for a semester has not decided is she will return to Stanford.

Backing up a little though. Stanford has several Title IX complaints pending. Filed by former students, the complaints are centered on how the university investigates Title IX complaints as well as the disciplinary process. Again, as noted above, Standford has been changing their policies and procedures, and apparently are eager to avoid the feds coming to Palo Alto for a visit. In December, BuzzFeed reported that at least two of the women--both victims of sexual assault--who have filed OCR complaints were offered money in exchange for the withdrawal of the complaints. In one of those cases the money was offered under the guise of support for therapy and other expenses resulting from the assault; but conditional upon withdrawal of the complaint. (Withdrawal of a complaint does not guarantee that OCR will drop its investigation. It does not require a complaint be filed in order to initiate an investigation.)

As a reminder, the student-run marching band has been dormant this year (except for bowl games!?) in the wake of revelations about hazing--of a sexual nature. (All hazing deserves punishment; the nature of this hazing speaks to the campus climate, which is why I mentioned it.)

In addition to the OCR complaints, a lawsuit was filed against the school in December. A woman who was physically and sexually assaulted by a man with whom she had tried to end relations encountered resistance from university staff and officials as she made her way through the process. She heard the now unfortunately common responses to sexual assault that included questions about whether she really wanted to have sex with him (from a counselor) and whether she really wanted to pursue charges against the assailant, who admitted to student life staff that he did indeed rape the woman in question. Punishment was not pursued because staff believed he was sorry and would not re-offend.

He re-offended. Against at least two other women at Stanford.  He graduated as a student in good standing in 2014. He was issued a 10-year ban from campus.

Stanford is pushing back against the media coverage of its many complaints and several lawsuits. There is a lot of PR happening. There is a lot more to come.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Catching up: Minnesota football attempts boycott

Several significant events occurred in the past few weeks as we were wrapping up semesters, traveling, celebrating good news and times, and reflecting on what 2017 will bring and how we will respond.We will be catching up on these. Here is installment one about the Minnesota football boycott.

Minnesota football team protests Title IX sanctions
Part I: The members of the University of Minnesota football team banded together and said they would not participate in any football-related activities--including their scheduled December 27 bowl game--in protest of sanctions handed down by school officials against ten team members involved in sexual assault and harassment of a female student. They demanded the president and athletic director  reverse the suspension of their teammates.

In what was supposed to resemble activism, the players presented a united front, had a press conference, and told the media that the Title IX infractions were unfairly meted out, that there was violation of due process and constitutional rights. The action is supported by head coach, Tracy Claeys, who tweeted (2017--the year when people become more self-aware about Twitter??) that he has  "never been more proud of our kids. I respect their rights [and] support their effort to make a better world!" He also invoked the concept of due process.

There was a flurry of opinion pieces (and opinion pieces masquerading as fact) about Title IX investigations run amok.

Part II: The players thought that the cultural capital of football and its corresponding economic capital (bowl games = $$) would prevail. Not in this cultural climate--and not with the evidence against the ten players, including four who had been suspended by the coach himself for team violations after the incident was reported in September.

Players hold another press conference and say they will indeed play the bowl game and resume other activities. The change was attributed to the boycotting players actually reading the 80+ page report of the incident; a report compiled by the school as it investigated the incident as per its legal obligations. The reading of the document was part of a meeting with the university president. I imagine that the power of football was brought up in that conversation as well. The power bestowed on intercollegiate football players and the ability of universities to take that power away. (There were many troubling perceptions of the power of football within this whole event.)

The second press conference reflected some of these power paradigms Spokesperson for the boycott said "we understand that what has occurred these past few days and playing football for the University of Minnesota is larger than just us."

Sadly there was no concern for the victim. No support for the role of Title IX and its enforcers in keeping students safe. No clarification about Title IX investigations and how they differ from the criminal process. In short, it does not seem like anyone learned anything except how to (and how not to) wield the power of football.

Part III: Minnesota wins the bowl game. A Forbes writer attributes the underdog win to the "solidarity" that was established during the boycott and calls the boycott a "silent victory." Solidarity in the name of misogyny is not very silent--especially in football.

The school announces this week that Claeys has been fired. The athletics director (in his first year) said that there were issues in the program around recruiting and ticket sales but admitted that the coach's comments during the boycott did not help his cause. There has been pushback against the firing.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Elmira Resolution Announced Today

Today the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights announced a resolution agreement with Elmira College in New York, after finding the college in violation of some of Title IX's requirements governing its sexual assault response. OCR's investigation was prompted by the complaint of a student who reported to campus officials in November of 2013 that she had been sexually assaulted by a fellow student. (Specifically, she reported that he had become"forceful" and she agreed to have sex with him "out of fear.") After investigation, the final investigative report concluded that the respondent committed sexual misconduct, but did not engage in sexual assault, and sanctioned the respondent with a no-contact order. OCR determined that while the college's response was equitable, the fact the it did not start investigating the complainant's November report until February of the following year was not sufficiently "prompt." It rejected the college's argument that such delay was reasonable in light of Thanksgiving break, final exams, winter break, and a one-week illness of the complainant.

Alone this violation may not seem like a big deal, and even OCR noted that the delay did not seem to result in the further harassment of the complainant.  But the agency also pointed out that when it looked at 16 other sexual harassment/misconduct complaints resolved by Elmira between 2012 and 2016, it found some "violation or concern" in all but one of them, "including instances where the college failed to provide prompt and equitable investigations and took insufficient measures to assess and address the impact of harassment and possible hostile environments." In other words, a pattern of getting it not-quite-right.

As a result, OCR and Elmira agreed that Elmira would commit to training for its Title IX coordinator and other staff members who play a role in the grievance process. The college must also review its own investigations that have occurred more recently than OCR's investigation, to ensure that they were conducted in a prompt and equitable manner.

Friday, December 16, 2016

And Princeton makes...

...three. As in the third Ivy League university to suspend a sports team this semester over racist, misogynist, and generally offensive messages among members. It is the fourth team when counting non-Ivy Amherst.

Princeton's swimming and diving team has been banned from competition pending an investigation which will inform administrators' decision over whether to cancel the rest of the season.

Like at Harvard, the comments were about members of the women's team. But other than that we do not know much. Unlike at Amherst, where the comments were revealed via a student publication, the issue came to the attention to the administrators via an anonymous complaint.

It is possible some comments will be leaked. I don't think we really need to know exactly what was said to see that the genie is out of the bottle. These are not going to be isolated incidents.

So while some people wait to see if Princeton officials will cancel the swim team's season, I am waiting to see how these events and the ones that will follow will be framed. Will people make a connection between the athlete culture that produces the athletes who write and disseminate these message and the sexual assault epidemic on college campuses? Will we start to look at "locker room culture" and think about sports beyond football and basketball? All the teams reprimanded/suspended/cancelled have been non-major teams--and at schools that are not considered "big-time college sports" schools. (I am not saying that athletes at these schools do not work as hard or as not as dedicated or that their sports are not important. I am speaking to the larger culture and categorizations of intercollegiate sports.) Will Title IX be used as a remedy or a consideration in these cases? Will we be able to talk about not just gender but race and sexuality and class as we engage in discussions?

So many questions. I suspect more cases will emerge before we start to get at answers.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

An end to the Winston saga

In a rather unsurprising move, a settlement has been announced in the case of former Florida State University students Erica Kinsman and Jameis Winston. Kinsman's lawsuit against the former FSU quarterback and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB (and Winston's countersuit) has been resolved via an undisclosed settlement. The trial, a goal of which was to hold Winston accountable for raping Kinsman four years ago, was scheduled for April 2017.

No one else held Winston accountable. Local and university police did not investigate properly and the lack of police evidence and interference in the investigative process meant the state attorney general could not effectively prosecute him. FSU also failed to investigate; held a ridiculous student conduct hearing overseen by a former federal judge who had no idea how to run such a hearing; and then found that there was not evidence (over a year later--in violation of Title IX's 6-month time frame) to suggest the sex was not consensual.

As an outsider who closely followed this case, the incompetence, the denial, the misogyny, and overall disregard for student welfare was immensely frustrating. There is little to suggest that FSU has realized the error of its ways or that the culture of Jimbo Fisher's team has changed.

I am not suggesting that the settlement was unwise or that I believe a trial would have produced some desired result. I do think that Winston benefited immensely from the settlement in terms of PR. He has been scandal-free since joining the NFL and Bucs fans seem to love him. A trial that brings up his past might remind (or inform) some people of what he got away with. He learned well from his alma mater that image is everything and paying to make image problems go away is worth it.

As a reminder, Kinsman tells her story in the documentary The Hunting Ground.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

On suspending seasons

Yesterday, Amherst College suspended all team activities for the men's cross country team after a student publication revealed social media messages and emails to incoming team members that included racist. misogynist, and homophobic comments.

Last month, Harvard suspended the men's soccer season in the wake of revelations that the team has continued its practice of ranking first-year members of the Harvard women's soccer team in sexually explicit ways.

In a few weeks, the Baylor football team will play in the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl against Boise State despite accusations of sexual assault by 17 women against current and former football players and a clear evidence of cover-ups.

One of these things is not like the others.

Things have been brewing, arguably boiling over, at Baylor for some time, which is why Paul Finebaum, ESPN commentator, expressed outrage last month that the team had not been suspended. Finebaum said on-air that Baylor's football season should have been suspended in light of its many misdeeds (chronicled here--and everywhere). Finebaum was calling for the Big 12 to issue the suspension because neither the NCAA nor the university itself will do so. The NCAA is not planning  anything in response to the cover-up of the sexual assaults and to an institution that does not have control over its athletics program. Baylor hired a law firm to do an external investigation and then failed to make changes and refuses to acknowledge a culture of sexual hostility and athlete privilege.

The two events at Amherst and Harvard have commonalities: introduction of the first-year class into team culture using offensive discourse; elite, private schools; men's "minor sports"; both schools will conduct investigations into the matters.

At Harvard the offense was directed at the women's soccer team; a betrayal of what many of the women felt was a familial (non-sexual) relationship. Since the soccer scandal was revealed, it has come out that similar practices have occurred within the men's cross country team. The initial response was meh. The athletic director said Harvard would handle it internally and by trying to make it less of a media thing--he made it more of a media thing. The additional findings that 1) players were not being "forthcoming" about what was happening and 2) it was still happening forced the AD as well as the university president to make stronger public statements and ultimately cancel the season. Investigations are ongoing.   

At Amherst, it does not appear--at the moment--that the commentary was directed at a female team. A June 2015 list of female students has surfaced that includes pictures and comments about their sexual pasts, including guesses about STD infections. The incidents in question are from 2013-15. Of course, as we saw at Harvard, these things often do not just disappear on their own, even when there is new leadership--as there was at Harvard when they hired a new soccer coach a few years ago.

Also, the cross country season is over. "Team activities" would likely include team banquets or coach-led practices, but it's finals week at Amherst, and I assume there is not much on the docket for the team. So now Amherst must decide how to proceed. Will athletes involved be individually punished? Will the be prevented from running next season? Many cross country runners will also run indoor and outdoor track. Will team members be allowed to compete for their other teams? To its credit, Amherst, under its (not so new anymore) president, has taken issues of sexual assault and harassment more seriously than in the past. The school's response was immediate and the AD and president are seemingly on the same page. I hope this one does just fade away. Investigations are ongoing.

What have we learned? Well male privilege and sexual misconduct are not just the province of football players. This is obvious when taking a broad look at the cases of harassment and assault involving athletes. Baylor gets the most attention because it is a big-time football program. (There is also the issue of adherence to "Christian values" that are the alleged bedrock of the institutional mission; this has received less attention.) So what it looks like is that there is more at stake at Baylor--for the athletes, for the coaches, for the school. I do not agree with this view because what I know for sure is that the stakes are the same for the women who are the victims of these athletes and for potential victims. They are on campuses where sexual violence is a known reality (as it is on most campuses). The crimes and misdemeanors may be different and, at the individual level, the effects on victims may be different (in part because of school response). But all these schools have a climate of sexual hostility and it is manifesting in their athletic departments, among their male-student athletes (and probably at higher levels as well). And this means that students do not feel safe at their schools.

PS. More on Baylor:

The university received word this week from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, an accrediting body, that it would be monitoring Baylor's ability to 1) maintain institutional control over intercollegiate athletics, 2) create a safe and healthy environment for students, and 3) provide adequate student support services.

In other words, while there are a lot of external pressures on Baylor, it continues to do very little. Baylor fans might say that ditching Art Briles was enough. Finebaum, and many others, do not think so. Firing Briles (who is suing the school for libel) was cleaning house. It is was not shoring up the structure of the house. In fact (to continue to metaphor) Baylor brought in a temporary coach, Jim Grobe, who seemed to be predisposed to making things dirty again and further weakening the structure. (Based on comments during his early press conferences and interviews.) The new coaching staff has been named. We shall see what those press conferences bring.

Investigations are over.

PPS. Columbia wrestling
I knew I forgot something! Columbia University (also elite, private) suspended its men's wrestling team ("minor sport") after some members' racist and misogynist texts were discovered. Columbia completed its investigation last month. While the investigation was pending, members were not allowed to compete. The team was still practicing.

The messages were sent in a group message format. Those not participating in the group message were allowed to resume competition. Some members were suspended for the rest of the season. Others were suspended until the start of spring semester.

Notable in this case: former assistant coach Hudson Taylor who founded Athlete Ally, a group that supports LGBT athletes, took some responsibility for the culture that engendered these messages:

"[The actions] are a reflection of our culture and my coaching. I apologize to the Columbia campus, to the alumni, and to my former wrestlers for not doing more to develop them into young men of better character.”

Saturday, December 03, 2016

A Roundup of Disciplined-Student Cases

In three separate cases, courts issued rulings this week that address claims by students disciplined for sexual assault that the university's process for administering discipline was biased and/or procedurally unfair. A summary of each is below.

Doe v. Ohio State University.  In this case, Ohio State expelled a male student for having sex with a female student who could not consent due to incapacitation by alcohol. He sued the university and several university officials in federal court. This week, the court granted the university's motion to dismiss the constitutional and Title IX claims against it because state entities like Ohio State enjoy sovereign immunity from suit in federal court.  The sovereign immunity doctrine has an exception for cases where the plaintiff seeks prospective relief, such as reinstatement, but because the plaintiff did not request reinstatement, that exception does not apply.

Additionally, the university officials moved to dismiss the claims against them in their personal capacities on the grounds of qualified immunity.  Under this doctrine, state officials are only liable for violations of constitutional rights that are "clearly established." The court determined the most of the plaintiff's allegations about the deficiency of the process constituted a violation of clear constitutional precedent.  However, the court did not dismiss plaintiff's allegations that the university officials were trained in a biased manner, since if proven, such claims would implicate a clear constitutional right to have one's case decided by an impartial adjudicator.  However, the court cautiously acknowledged that there's a difference between being biased against sexual assault in general, and being predisposed to finding a respondent responsible for sexual assault in a given case. The plaintiff can't satisfy the latter with evidence of the former. However, the court read the plaintiff's allegations as plausible enough to warrant discovery.  The officials would have an opportunity to seek dismissal on summary judgment and have the court determine if the plaintiff has meet that burden of producing evidence in support of the allegations.

Doe v. University of Cincinnati.  Here, a male student was suspended for one year for having sex with a female student without her affirmative consent. He then sued the university in federal court and moved for an injunction that would prevent the suspension from taking effect. The court granted the injunction after agreeing that the plaintiff was likely to prevail on the merits of his argument that the complainant's absence from the hearing deprived him of an opportunity to cross-examine her. While not endorsing a blanket right to cross examination in all student disciplinary hearings, the court did acknowledge the importance of that right in cases like this one where the hearing panel's assessment of parties' credibility was the key factor in its determination. The court also did not insist that when a right to cross examination exists, it must be conducted in person at the hearing. Instead, what made the accuser's absence from the hearing a due process violation in this case was the fact that the respondent did not know in advance that she would be not be present, and thus, was unable to take advantage of other means of cross-examination, such as the submission of written questions that the hearing panel could have posed to complainant in some other way.

Arishi v. Washington State University.  This case stems from Washington State University's decision to expel a doctoral student after he was arrested for child molestation and statutory rape. The student sued in state court to challenge the university's disciplinary procedure as a violation the state statute that imposes procedural requirements on adjudications conducted by state agencies. He argued that he was not allowed a "full hearing" required by Washington's administrative procedure act, which would have provided him the opportunity to cross examine witnesses, present evidence, and be represented by counsel.  The court agreed that state universities are subject to the law and that none of the exceptions warranting an abbreviated hearing apply. The court has ordered the plaintiff's case remanded to Washington State, which must conduct a full hearing if they wish to expel him. According to this news article about the case, the court's decision will mean changes in the disciplinary process not just at Washington State, but 26 other state colleges and universities whose procedures do not constitute full hearings under the state administrative procedures act.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Sex-Segregated Elementary School Violate Title IX, OCR Says

An Idaho elementary school may no longer segregate students by sex after the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights determined that doing so without evidence-based rationale violated Title IX. OCR's investigation was triggered by the ACLU of Idaho, which filed a complaint against Middleton Heights school district in 2013. The ACLU argued that the elementary school's practice of separating boys and girls from first through sixth grade, including even for some nonacademic subjects, was not tailored to the program's stated objective of closing the gender gaps in reading and math proficiency.  For one reason, the program segregated students for more than just math and reading instruction. But even as it applied to reading and math, the school district's rationale was based upon a faulty premise according to the ACLU, which cited evidence that gender gaps in math and reading at Middleton Heights elementary school had been small or nonexistent prior to the segregation program. Instead, it argued, the school district imposed segregation based on impermissibly "overly broad generalizations" and gender stereotypes, such as that boys benefit from a kinetic classroom environment and girls need calm and quiet. The ACLU's complaint criticized the school district for operating on these assumptions and attributing them to entire genders, rather than making an "individualized assessment" to determine which students benefited from which environment.

The school district actually curtailed its decade-long segregation in June, and reportedly had no plans to reinstate it. To make sure, however, OCR is monitoring the school district until 2020.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

UCSD Successfully Appeals Student Discipline Case

This week, the California Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling that found in favor of a student, John Doe, who had been suspended from the University of California San Diego for sexual misconduct.  In July of 2015, a superior court judge invalidated the university's suspension after concluding that disciplinary hearing was plagued by prejudicial procedural errors, including limits on his right to cross-examine the complainant and the investigator, as well as insufficient evidence to justify the findings in complainant's favor.

The appellate court disagreed with the lower court's conclusions.  One of the procedural errors that the lower court addressed was the fact that the respondent was not allowed to ask questions directly to the complainant. Instead, the hearing panel asked the questions John Doe had submitted. This was not itself a problem, but the lower court did find fault in the fact that the panel filtered out many of the proposed questions; only asking 9 of the 31 submitted by the respondent. But the appellate court concluded that the rejected questions were unnecessary or repetitive of earlier testimony.  For example, 7 of the rejected questions sought the complainant's admission that she sent certain text messages, which was unnecessary since the text messages themselves were already in evidence. Moreover, Doe did not argue in his appellate briefs how exactly his case was harmed by the hearing panel's exclusion of various questions.

The lower court had also found that that the hearing panel improperly relied on the investigator's report. But, despite John Doe's argument to the contrary, the appellate court recognized that university policies put him on notice of the fact that the report would be used as a factfinding document.  Additionally, though John Doe claimed he was prejudiced by not being able to cross-examine the investigator who wrote the report, the appellate court noted that Doe could have called the investigator as a witness for that purpose, and that he neglected to do so.

The lower court had based its determination of insufficient evidence on its conclusion that the hearing panel should not have relied on the complainant's testimony or the investigator's report, because neither had been scrutinized under cross-examination.  The appellate court, having rejected the alleged procedural errors about cross examination, easily determined that there was sufficient evidence of John Doe's guilt.

Lastly, the appellate court reversed the lower court's conclusion that the university's decision to suspend John Doe was an abuse of discretion, especially in light of the fact that the length of the sanction increased with each of John Doe's internal appeals. But the hearing panel, which only recommended suspension for one quarter, was only authorized to do that, recommend.  The Dean, who sanctioned Doe for a one year suspension, always had the ultimate authority to determine the initial sanction. While the Dean departed from the hearing panel's recommendation, the appellate court found that the Dean's sentence was consistent with university policy. The council of provosts, which considered John Doe's appeal of the Dean's sentence, increased the sanction to one year and a quarter. The appellate court found that the council's reasons were related to the content of the appeal, and not, as Doe claimed, punishment for exercising his right to appeal in the first place.

The lower court has been ordered to deny John Doe's petition for mandamus, which would have canceled his suspension. It is not clear to me what that means for Doe himself, given the time that has already passed while his case and appeal were pending.