Gender and the Law Prof Blog

Editor: Tracy A. Thomas
University of Akron School of Law

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Sixth Circuit Recognizes Possible Title IX Erroneous-Outcome Claim in Campus Sexual Assault

Justia Opinion Summary: Doe v. Miami U

John attended a party, drank six beers, then proceeded to a bar and drank more beer and alcohol. He left the bar in the early morning, sufficiently intoxicated that he cannot remember what happened for the remainder of the night. Based on text messages he later found on his cellphone, John knows that he called Jane. The two had engaged in several prior physical encounters. Jane, who had also been drinking, joined John in his bed. According to Jane’s subsequent statement, the two engaged in some consensual sexual acts, but Jane stopped consenting and John continued to engage in non-consensual sexual acts. John was found responsible for violating Miami University’s sexual assault policy and was suspended for four months. John sued Jane, Miami University, and individual University employees. John and Jane reached a settlement. The court dismissed John’s remaining claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of John’s Title IX hostile-environment claim, Title IX deliberate-indifference claim, and 42 U.S.C. 1983 substantive-due-process claim. The court reversed, in part, finding that John sufficiently pleaded procedural-due-process and equal protection claims against one employee based on the claims that she was not an impartial adjudicator and did not fully disclose the evidence against him. The court also reversed a finding of qualified immunity as to that employee and held that John sufficiently pled his Title IX erroneous-outcome claim.

Doe v. Miami University (6th Cir. Feb. 9, 2018) (opinion by Karen Nelson Moore)

We agree with the district court that John has pleaded sufficient facts to cast “some articulable doubt on the accuracy” on the outcome of his disciplinary hearing. He alleges that he was so intoxicated that he cannot recall the critical events in question.  Thus, John’s only knowledge of what occurred is drawn from Jane’s description.  In her written statement, Jane describes a series of sexual acts between herself and John, some of which were consensual and some of which were not.
She states that she initially agreed to digital penetration, but at some point told John to stop. Id. John did stop, but only after some period of time had passed. Then John asked Jane if he could engage in oral sex. According to Jane, she said no, but John proceeded anyway and Jane responded by pushing him away, rather than re-verbalizing her denial of consent.  John then stopped. Jane also states, however, that “I never said no.”

[John was suspended by Miami for three terms].

Taken together, the statistical evidence that ostensibly shows a pattern of gender-based decision-making and the external pressure on Miami University supports at the motion-to dismiss stage a reasonable inference of gender discrimination. John alleges facts showing a potential pattern of gender-based decision-making that “raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal” circumstantial evidence of gender discrimination. He asserts that every male student accused of sexual misconduct in the Fall 2013 and Spring 2014 semesters was found responsible for the alleged violation, and that nearly ninety percent of students found responsible for sexual misconduct between 2011 and 2014 have male first-names. Additionally, John incorporated an affidavit from an attorney who represents many students in Miami University’s disciplinary proceedings, which describes a pattern of the University pursuing investigations concerning male students, but not female students. Lastly, John points to his own situation, in which the University initiated an investigation into him but not Jane, as evidence that Miami University impermissibly makes decisions on the basis of a student’s gender. Discovery may reveal that the alleged patterns of gender-based decisionmaking do not, in fact, exist. That information, however, is currently controlled by the defendants, and John has sufficiently pleaded circumstantial evidence of gender discrimination.

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John also alleges that the two other members of his Administrative Hearing Panel (Van Gundy-Yoder and Elliott) and the two individuals who decided his appeals (Ward and Brownell) were not neutral decision-makers.  He argues that Van Gundy-Yoder and Ward were biased due to their research interests. But merely being a feminist or researching topics that affect women does not support a reasonable inference that a person is biased. John also alleges that all of these individual defendants faced institutional pressures to find him responsible due to external influence from the federal government and lawsuits brought by private parties. 

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/gender_law/2018/04/sixth-circuit-recognizes-possible-title-ix-erroneous-outcome-claim-in-campus-sexual-assault.html

Courts, Education, Violence Against Women | Permalink

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