Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Student Expelled for Assault Files Lawsuit Against Swarthmore

A Swarthmore student expelled for sexual assault has sued the college over the manner that it handled charges that he committed sexual assault on a fellow student.  The student, called "John Doe" in his complaint, alleges that he was falsely accused and then initially cleared of the accuser's claim that he had coerced her to have sex.  Later, however, his case was re-opened for additional investigation and subsequent hearing, which resulted in Doe's expulsion. Doe alleges that this decision was motivated by negative publicity Swarthmore received as a result of its previous mishandling of sexual assault cases, which served as motivation to use Doe's case as a scapegoat.  The complaint alleges that the subsequent hearing involved a number of procedural violations that produced its biased outcome, and he argues that the sanction imposed was excessively severe in light of alleged anomalies in the complaining student's account of what happened and the lack of corroborating evidence.   He charges the college with violations of its own policies, as well as Title IX and due process.

This case joins a handful of others we've blogged about in recent months, in which an accused student argues that a university's disciplinary proceeding in a case involving sexual assault is discriminatory on the basis of sex. If Title IX enforcement did in fact motivate Swarthmore to violate John Doe's rights, then of course he ought to be able to use the law for vindication.  But even if that outcome occurs, his and the other cases like it do not serve as evidence that Title IX has tipped the balance too far in the favor of female students at the expense of men.  Prior to the April 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, which resulted in increased enforcement and public attention to university sexual assault policies, accused students could use the threat of litigation to motivate universities to dismiss their cases, and victims had no similar opportunity. Maybe that former bias in accused students' favor explains why it seems like such cases were fewer in number than the "trend" we've seen lately. The DCL leveled the playing field by giving a tool to the victims that the accused students already had--the leverage of litigation and complaint.