In our last blog post about sexual misconduct allegations on college campuses, we delved into the Title IX lawsuit against Rhodes College and the court's decision to extend federal due process requirements onto private schools.
Here, we explain why this development is so important.
Court Extends Due Process Rights to Private School Students
The facts of the case were disturbingly similar.
A girl claimed that she was raped during a fraternity party. Media attention and protests pressured the school to expel the accused. The disciplinary hearing was rife with problems, from the lack of an accuser to be cross-examined to evidence against the accused miraculously appearing.
After being expelled, the accused filed a Title IX lawsuit against the school, Rhodes College. It was a private college, so the lawsuit included a claim of breach of contract in addition to the Title IX allegation of sexual discrimination.
Ruling on a preliminary motion to prevent Rhodes College from expelling the student, the court stated that the student's due process rights were implicated.
This invocation of due process rights shocked the legal community because the rule of thumb has long been that legal due process rights only applied to public schools, not private ones.
Why the Extension of Due Process is So Important
Due process is by far the most difficult constitutional right to fully comprehend. Even the term “due process” is confusing because the “process” refers to the set of requirements that have to be checked off before life, liberty, or property interests are deprived, while what is “due” can vary depending on the situation.
In other words, “due process” can mean the “required requirements” that have to be satisfied before sanctions are assessed.
The U.S. Constitution emphasizes due process rights so much that it guarantees them twice – in the Fifth Amendment against actions made by the federal government, and in the Fourteenth Amendment against actions made by the state government.
Public institutions are those that are run by these states. Private institutions are those that are not run by these states.
Therefore, it stands to reason that the “due process” mentioned in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments does not apply to private institutions, like Rhodes College.
That is the thought that the judge in Doe v. Rhodes College bucked against in his recent ruling against the school.
Applying federal due process requirements to private colleges in Title IX claims means that all of the federal cases outlining those due process rights and requirements come with it. Suddenly, many of the questions about what a private college has to do while investigating and hearing a Title IX allegation fade away as earlier federal cases answer them.
The importance of this ruling should not be ignored, and drastically increase the likelihood that an appellate court will find the need to step in.
Joseph D. Lento: Title IX Advisor and Defense Attorney
Joseph D. Lento is a defense lawyer for students, professors, and staffers who have been accused of sexual misconduct. He also works as a national Title IX advisor. Contact him online or call his law office at (888) 535-3686 for legal guidance.