Title IX-related case alleging College wrongly decided allegation dismissed

Gabe Miller

On Sept. 7, a magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts granted the College’s motion for summary judgment in a Title IX-related lawsuit originally filed on Feb. 18, 2020. The decision dismissed the claims of a former student who brought the lawsuit under the pseudonym John Doe, whom the College previously found responsible for sexual misconduct.

In summary judgments, a judge ends a lawsuit without holding a full trial. It can be granted only when the substantive facts of a case are not in dispute, meaning the case can be decided solely on matters of law.

“[Doe] alleges that the College, in finding him responsible for non-consensual sexual contact, violated its contractual obligations to him … and discriminated against him based on his gender in violation of Title IX,” the College wrote in its motion. “The undisputed facts demonstrate that the [Title IX investigation] process was conducted with basic fairness and the College followed its procedures as it reasonably would expect Doe to understand them.”

In the lawsuit, Doe alleged that the alleged that the College had improperly adjudicated a Title IX case filed against him. He sought damages and an overturning of the College’s finding that he was responsible for sexual misconduct. In his complaint, he alleged that his disciplinary record made it impossible for him to pursue law school. Due to the sensitive nature of the allegations contained in the lawsuit, the court allowed Doe to bring the case anonymously.

In response to the Court’s finding of summary judgment for the College, attorney for Doe Ruth O’Meara-Costello told the Record that “[w]e are disappointed in the court’s decision and considering our options.”

The College’s lawyers have not responded to the Record’s request for comment, and President Maud S. Mandel said she did not have further comments on the ruling.

The facts of the case

In two instances during November 2016 and January 2017, Doe and a female student, who is referred to throughout the lawsuit by the pseudonym Sally Smith, engaged in touching over clothes and kissing. In her Title IX claim, which she filed in April of 2017, Smith told the College that she did not consent to either kissing or touching in either instance, while Doe claimed that she had consented in both encounters.  

In its statement of material facts supporting summary judgment, the College wrote that “​​Smith arranged for the [January] meeting in order to tell Doe that she felt he had mistreated her in November and that he should have known better.” Six days after their January encounter, Smith confronted Doe, claiming that he had been insensitive and demanding his resignation from a leadership position in an international student organization. In Doe’s recountings, he alleged that Smith threatened “lots of people were ready to hurt [him]” if he did not resign. Doe resigned from his position the next day and spoke with several members of the College administration — including the dean of international students, director of sexual assault prevention and response, and dean of the College, about the demand for resignation. Ultimately, however, Doe did not file a complaint against Smith. 

In March 2017, Doe was selected for “an Oxford University program offered through Williams,” (which, given the descriptions in the case is likely the Williams-Exeter Programme) and Smith went on to submit a formal accusation against Doe, alleging he committed sexual misconduct during their November and January interactions. Doe argued to the College and later the Court that Smith submitted the accusations because she was upset he was selected for the program. Smith denied such allegations.

After conducting an investigation, a College Title IX hearing panel found from a preponderance of the evidence that Doe had engaged in sexual misconduct. After giving Doe a chance to respond to this letter, the panel imposed upon him a one-semester suspension. Doe was also advised that the sanction would not appear on his academic transcript.

On Sept. 15, 2017, Doe and his attorney submitted an appeal to Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity Leticia S.E. Haynes ’99. The appeal argued that Doe was not able to prepare his defense sufficiently by questioning witnesses and did not have enough information from the College to suggest questions to witnesses.

This appeal was denied on Oct. 9, 2017.  Doe returned to the College after the suspension and graduated at some point during 2020.  He did not file the lawsuit until February 2020.