Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Title IX Claim Dismissed in (Yet Another) Disciplined Student Case

A federal court in North Carolina is open to the possibility that Appalachian State University denied a male student procedural and substantive fairness by suspending him for 20 days for sexual assault before the hearing panel ultimately exonerating him on appeal. However, this does not constitute a violation of Title IX, the court ruled, because there is no allegation to support the claim that the university was biased against him because of sex.  In granting the university's motion to dismiss the plaintiff's Title IX claim, the court rejected the plaintiff's reliance on Yusef v. Vassar College, a 1994 decision and one of the only examples of a disciplined-student's Title IX claim surviving a motion to dismiss.  In that case, the plaintiff alleged that male students were "historically and systematically" found guilty when accused of rape, and the court found this allegation of bias sufficient.  But the court ruled that similar allegations do not satisfy today's higher standard for more specific pleading, which was imposed by two Supreme Court cases, Twombly and Iqbal, in 2007 and 2009, respectively.  In so doing, this court joins a long list of other courts who have rejected Title IX's applicability to disciplined-student cases.

That said, the court was open to the plaintiff's arguments about procedural and substantive fairness as protected by the Constitution's due process clause.  Namely, the court acknowledged that the university's decision to hold a second hearing in the sexual harassment matter after the first hearing panel found him not responsible violated his right to procedural due process, as did the fact that he was provided less than 24 hours notice that a sexual harassment charge had been added to the hearing as well.  The plaintiff will be allowed to continue to litigate these claims, as well as his claim that the "arbitrary" decision of a university official to overturn an initial hearing panel's decision in his favor without any basis for doing so, was substantively unfair. 

(For the record, many of the plaintiff's other arguments about procedural fairness were in fact dismissed, including: the fact that he had a graduate student represent him while the complainant had a lawyer, the fact that the university did not tell him about potential witnesses that could have helped his case, the fact that the university excluded a potential witness who would have testified about the complainant's sexual history, the fact that the hearing panel included a member who had found against his co-respondent in a prior matter, and the fact that no one informed him of his right to have a separate hearing from that of his co-respondent.)

Decision: Tanyi v. Appalachian State University, 2015 WL 4478853 (W.D.N.C. July 22, 2015).