Anonymous student sues College over alleged Title IX violation in sexual misconduct case

Annie Lu

On Feb. 18, an anonymous plaintiff under the pseudonym John Doe filed a lawsuit against the College. The lawsuit alleges that the College violated Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 by suspending the plaintiff after finding him responsible for sexual misconduct. The Education Amendments Act of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational institutions that receive federal aid.

This lawsuit is similar in nature to a complaint filed by another male former student on Jan. 28, 2018, which is now under investigation by the United States Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). The 2018 complaint also claims the College violated Title IX in discriminating against a male respondent in a sexual misconduct case. However, the OCR investigation is independent of the courts and operates separately from civil suits. 

The College is also involved in an active lawsuit filed in 2016 in the U.S. District Court for Massachusetts; that lawsuit regards another male former student who alleges discrimination on the basis of sex in a sexual misconduct case.

General Counsel Jamie Art ’93 explained that, due to its small size, the College does not typically handle litigation internally in instances like this. “If [the plaintiff files the complaint] … we’ll engage outside counsel who will represent us in the lawsuit,” Art said. “There are just two lawyers who work for the College internally, and we need to have additional help and support.”

The Feb. 18 Doe v. Williams case alleges that the College’s findings that Doe “engaged in kissing and touching with another student without her affirmative consent” were based on the female student’s (pseudonymously referred to as Sally Smith) false allegations to the College, and that his subsequent suspension was wrongful and unjust. 

According to the lawsuit, after Doe engaged in what the plaintiff describes as “consensual sexual contact on two occasions with a fellow foreign student,” the female student accused him of being “‘culturally insensitive’ to her conservative religious values by kissing her but then not pursuing a relationship with her” and only reported his behavior to the College months later.

Doe’s complaint features text messages Smith sent Doe after their first encounter including statements such as “the other night was amazing” and that she had been “feeling so different and liberated after it,” which, the lawsuit claims, the panel did not note in its decision.

The document further describes how, during the College’s investigation, Doe alleges he was forbidden from investigating the claims against him and was not provided the identity or testimony of any witnesses identified by Smith, the complainant. Doe further alleges not being given the opportunity to appear before the hearing panel, which determined its verdict based on a written report detailing the results of interviews and documents gathered by the College’s investigator.

Doe claims he has suffered and will continue to suffer serious damages in the form of loss of opportunities during his semester of suspension, loss of future educational and job opportunities, reputational harm and emotional distress. The demand requested in the complaint involves over $75,000 and injunctive relief.

Art expressed that the College is treating the issue with gravity. “The College takes its obligations under Title IX very seriously and it’s developed a set of processes and protocols and policies that it thinks are fair and equitable to everybody involved,” Art said.

Art added of sexual misconduct cases on campus, “They’re challenging situations, and the College is really doing the best it can in trying to enforce its policies and give complainants the procedural avenues that they’re entitled to … and afford respondents the procedural protections and rights [under the Student Handbook].”

The College will file an answer to the lawsuit with the aid of the outside counsel in the coming months.