Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Courts Address Disciplined Students' Title IX Claims in Two Cases

Federal courts in two separate cases have recently considered university's motions to dismiss claims by students disciplined for sexual assault that challenge the disciplinary process on constitutional and Title IX grounds. Here is a summary of each of those decisions:

In Doe v. University of Cincinnati, two male students who were disciplined (one suspended, the other put on probation and required to write a seven-page paper) for sexual assault in separate matters sued the university, alleging that its disciplinary process violated their constitutional right to due process as well as Title IX. The court granted the university's motion to dismiss both sets of claims.  In its Title IX analysis,the court interpreted the plaintiffs' complaint as alleging bias in favor of complainants (those reporting sexual assault) over respondents (those accused), which is not the same thing as gender bias. Providing interim measures to complainants and structuring a hearing that is sensitive to the complainant's trauma is not necessarily gender bias are moreover requirements of Title IX according to the Department of Education, and as such are hardly persuasive as violations of Title IX. The plaintiffs attempted to connect the alleged procedural disparities to gender bias with statistical evidence that shows only men were ever investigated or disciplined by the university.  But the court reasoned that these statistics are not evidence of bias on the university's part because there are other plausible explanations for this besides bias -- including (one) that the university has only ever received complaints that name male students as perpetrators of sexual assault, and (two) that women are more likely than men to report sexual assault. Nor is the case that males are "invariably found guilty" by the university disciplinary process, as even in the case at hand, one of the plaintiffs was found not responsible of one of the counts against him.

In Marshall v. Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, the plaintiff was expelled and banned from all Indiana University campuses after a hearing found him responsible for sexual assault. The court dismissed his due process and First Amendment claims after finding no support in the law for the idea that the constitution prohibits universities from limiting a disciplined student's right to counsel or interview witnesses in advance or that it requires them to use a standard of proof that is more than "some evidence."  However, the court did not dismiss his Title IX claim, after finding that his allegation of "selective, gender-based enforcement" met the minimum requirements for pleading a complaint. Specifically, he complains that the university failed to even investigate a reported sexual assault that he claims was committed against him by a female student. If proven, that could support a Title IX claim based on selective enforcement. The court was also willing to forgive the omission of details around this allegation, due to the fact that the university "does not deny that it is in sole possession of all information relating to this allegation" and refuses to share with the plaintiff. Accordingly, noted the court, the university "cannot have it both ways" -- withholding information from the plaintiff and simultaneously arguing for dismissal for lack of detailed allegation in the complaint. By allowing the case to proceed to discovery, the plaintiff will be able to access the information that may turn out to prove his allegation of selective enforcement.  When the discovery period closes, the university can put that issue to the test by filing a motion for summary judgment.

Decisions: Doe v. University of Cincinnati, 2016 WL 1161935 (S.D. Ohio Mar. 23, 2016);
Marshall v. IUPUI, 2016 WL 1028362 (S.D. Ind. Mar. 15, 2016).