Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Professor's Title IX Claim Against Northwestern Dismissed

A federal court in Illinois recently gave two reasons for dismissing Professor Peter Ludlow's Title IX claims against Northwestern University, arising from its decision to investigate charges by a graduate student that Ludlow had had nonconsensual sex with her during a period of time in which they were dating (the court's characterization).

First, the court determined that Ludlow was actually challenging an adverse employment action, and, as such, his Title IX claim was preempted by Title VII, the federal employment discrimination statute. The issue of Title VII preemption is not handled consistently by the courts, but there is precedent in the Seventh Circuit -- binding on the federal courts in Illinois -- that withholds Title IX remedies in cases where employees allege sex discrimination by their employer, reasoning that Congress intended the mechanisms of Title VII enforcement (which include first seeking relief from the EEOC) to apply instead.

Second, the court reasoned that even if the Title IX claims were not preempted, Ludlow had not alleged facts that suggest that the university's response in investigating the graduate student's claim had anything to do with his male sex, but instead, because the charge against him was rape. As the court put it, "That Ludlow is male is a conclusion without any link to the investigation itself and his statement that Northwestern 'needed to believe the victim' does not sustain the inference that Northwestern took the genders of the victim and accused into account."  Nor could Ludlow sustain a sex discrimination claim by arguing that men are more often burdened rather than helped by victim-friendly procedures, since there is no private right of action for disparate impact claims under Title IX.  In this way the court's decision is very similar to the majority of Title IX decisions in disciplined-student cases, such as the case against Columbia which is cited a number of times in the opinion.

After dismissing Ludlow's Title IX claim, the federal court determined that it had no basis for exercising supplemental jurisdiction over his state law claims, and subsequently dismissed those as well.

Ludlow v. Northwestern Univ., 2015 WL 5116867 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 28, 2015).