Here is a summary of some recent judicial decisions in cases brought by students who were disciplined for sexual assault.
1. Colorado State University-Pueblo. A federal magistrate rejected the university's motion to dismiss a case filed by a student who alleged that he was suspended for sexual assault in a biased and erroneous disciplinary proceeding conducted by university officials. The magistrate agreed that the plaintiff's allegations could support liability under Title IX if they eventually prove true. The complaint's allegations that university officials ignored exculpatory evidence, including statements by the complainant that their sexual encounter was consensual, evidence suggesting that the complainant and the respondent had consensual contact after the alleged assault, and evidence that could have indicated complainant's motive in filing the complaint was to conceal and avoid being punished for a prohibited relationship (she was a student in the athletic training program and he was a member of the football team). The magistrate acknowledged that ignoring such evidence indicates bias, but not necessarily gender bias which is required for institutional liability under Title IX. However, the complaint's additional allegations about the investigator's gender bias, particularly, bias about football players' propensity to rape, could if proven satisfy that requirement, the magistrate determined. Importantly, another aspect of this decision dismissed the plaintiff's direct challenge to the Department of Education's Dear Colleague Letter. Here, the magistrate reasoned that the plaintiff lacked standing to challenge the DCL because it did not cause the injuries that he alleges.
2. Amherst College. Title IX and breach of contract claims against Amherst College filed by a student expelled for sexual assault survived the college's motion to dismiss. Like the case described above, the plaintiff here also alleges that the disciplinary proceeding failed to take into account evidence that would have shown consent, including some text messages sent by the complainant immediately following her their sexual encounter in which she describes herself as the initiator of sexual activity. The court determined that the plaintiff satisfactorily alleged that this and other procedural errors were motivated by bias by including claims that his accuser was known by the college to be part of a "student-led movement" pressuring the college to change the way it handles sexual assault complaints, and that this pressure motivated the college to make procedural errors in the plaintiff's case in order to expel a male student for sexual assault. In addition, the plaintiff's selective enforcement claim also survived because the plaintiff alleged that male and female students were treated differently by the disciplinary process. The college allegedly failed to encourage him to file a complaint against her when they discovered the text messages suggesting she may have initiated sexual activity
with Doe while he was “blacked out,” and thus incapable of consenting, but on the hand, encouraged her to file a complaint against him upon discovery of her belief that she was assaulted by him. Notably, the plaintiff's complaint was one of the few I've seen that alleged a contemporaneous claim of race discrimination in the pattern of enforcement against black men. However, this claim was dismissed as it was not supported by sufficiently specific allegations.
3. St. Thomas University. In contrast to the two cases above, a federal court in Minnesota did grant St. Thomas University's motion to dismiss a Title IX claim alleging gender bias and mishandling of a sexual assault complaint. Here, the plaintiff's only support for his allegation that procedural errors resulted from gender bias was "pressure from the federal government to punish male students accused of sexual assault." The court rejected the sufficiency of this allegation, noting the absence of "targetted stress" imposed by the government on the university, that would have caused it to engage in unfavorable treatment of male students accused of sexual assault. However, this decision notably denied the university's motion to dismiss the plaintiff's claim of negligence (though the court was skeptical that the factual record would provide evidence necessary for liability on this claim).
4. San Diego State University. While a Title IX claim was not at issue in this case, a plaintiff prevailed against San Diego State on grounds that the university's failure to provide him with an "adult adviser" constituted procedural unfairness in violation of the state administrative law. In contrast to the plaintiff, who was required to speak for himself in the hearing, the court noted that the complainant received the assistance and advocacy of the university official who had initially investigated the case. The court made clear that it is not requiring universities to furnish respondents with a lawyer, but that respondent needed some kind of adult advocate, like a faculty member, to level the playing field. Further litigation is required to determine if the plaintiff, who had been expelled, must be reinstated.