Monday, March 30, 2015

Court Dismisses Lawsuit Challenging the Clery Act Amendments

Last year we blogged about a lawsuit filed in federal court on behalf of a female student at the University of Virginia that was seeking to nullify the amendments to the Clery Act contained in the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. The plaintiff had reported to her university that she had been the victim of sexual harassment and assault.  After investigating the matter, the university did not find the accused student responsible for the alleged misconduct. The student then filed a complaint with the Departments of Education and HHS, alleging that UVA violated Title IX in the handling of her complaint.  After the VAWA reauthorization, she filed this lawsuit seeking an order from the court that would compel the federal agencies to disregard the newly-amended Clery standards to the investigation of her case. She argued that these standards were weaker than Title IX's and therefore diluted its protection. Some of Clery's weaknesses, she argued, are its failure to codify a preponderance standard or a definition of consent.   

Last week, the federal court in D.C. dismissed the lawsuit based on an "erroneous interpretation" of the Clery Act amendments.  As the court correctly states, Clery and Title IX impose simultaneous, not alternative, requirements. Therefore, and as the Department of Education has since clarified, nothing in the Clery Amendments changes an institution's obligations under Title IX in any way.   The plaintiff apparently, and not unreasonably, wishes that Congress had endorsed the preponderance standard as a matter of statutory law (a stronger and potentially more lasting source of law than the Department of Education's interpretation on this issue) and that it had chosen to define consent.  Yet, Congress's failure to do this isn't actionable in a court of law.  The plaintiff is no worse off under the amended Clery than she was prior to those amendments.  While she may believe that the Clery Act amendments should have been stronger, that is a policy argument more appropriately directed at the political process.

Doe v. U.S. Dep't of Health and Human Servs., 2015 WL 1316290 (D.D.C. Mar. 24, 2015).