Lawsuits Involving Title IX Sexual Misconduct Student Disciplinary Cases Are on the Rise

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Mar 06, 2016 | 0 Comments

Lawsuits against colleges and universities involving Title IX sexual misconduct proceedings are becoming more and more frequent.  A student at Georgia Tech University filed such a lawsuit against his school based on his claim that the Title IX sexual misconduct investigation, proceedings, and findings against him were unfair and violated his rights.

Georgia Tech University's Office of Student Integrity found the male student responsible for engaging in non-consensual sexual intercourse and coercion against a female student at an event in October 2013.  Both the male and female had been drinking (as often is the case in matters involving campus sexual misconduct).  The male student, in his lawsuit, claims that he received limited information regarding witness statements and was therefore unable to properly defend himself against the allegations through the University's student disciplinary process.  Named as defendants in the lawsuit is the University's President, the Dean of Students, the Director of the Office of Student Integrity, and the board that oversees public colleges in Georgia.  In addition to asking the court to allow him to take spring classes with the goal of completing his degree at the University, the students seeks unspecified punitive and compensatory damages.

The events that led to the lawsuit took place in October 2013.  The male student invited a female student to his fraternity house, both drank alcohol, socialized on the main floor of the fraternity house, and thereafter joined other students playing drinking games in a room of the fraternity house.  The male student claims that the female student followed him to his bedroom where she shortly thereafter became sick and started vomiting.  The male student claims that he went to get a sober member of the fraternity, both went back upstairs to get the intoxicated female student, and then both male students brought her downstairs while they waited for the female student's two friends to pick her up.

The investigative report prepared at the instruction of the Director of the Office of Student Integrity found otherwise.  Per the University's investigative report, the female student claimed that the male student turned off the lights and started kissing her while in his bedroom, and that she thereafter stopped him, stating that "she wanted to get to know him better."  The female student claimed that the male student then touched her genitals without consent, she vomited shortly thereafter, and the male student stopped.  (Touching someone sexually without consent is wrong, but how did the University find against the male student for non-consensual sexual intercourse based on the female student's claims?)

In his lawsuit, the male student claims that the University failed to properly investigate the matter.  The lawsuit claims that the the Director of the Office of Student Integrity did not interview most fraternity members suggested by the male student despite them being present at the October 2013 event in question.  The lawsuit also claims that the male student was not sufficiently informed about the witnesses involved in the disciplinary matter until 30 minutes before a final interview with the Director. The male student claims that he did not have time to prepare or investigate, and that he was not permitted to question witnesses because only summaries of the witnesses' conversations with the Director were made available to him.  The lawsuit claims, "“[The male student] was entitled to process commensurate with the seriousness of the allegations and the potential discipline, sanctions, and repercussions he was facing...The allegations in this case resulted in the harshest sanction available at the University, will have lifelong ramifications for [the male student], and are quasi-criminal in nature.”

As has been the case with other colleges and universities in the recent past, Georgia Tech University changed its Title IX sexual misconduct policy in 2014.  The University choose to no longer have a student disciplinary panel hear cases involving allegations of sexual misconduct and sexual assault.  The University instead made the Office of Student Integrity responsible for investigating and making findings regarding Title IX sexual misconduct claims.  The University also added expulsion as a disciplinary sanction for non-consensual sexual intercourse.  (It is difficult to understand how expulsion was not a possible disciplinary sanction for a finding of sexual misconduct against an accused student in light of the fact that disciplinary cases involving such claims are generally the most serious cases in the campus setting.)

The male student at Georgia Tech University is not alone.  More and more students, often male as may be expected, are filing similar lawsuits not just in Georgia, but in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and nationwide.  After being expelled or otherwise punished by their colleges and universities based upon Title IX sexual misconduct findings against them, students are arguing that their right to due process was violated.  This is not the first time, and it will not be the last time that the Title IX disciplinary process will be criticized for being fundamentally flawed.  In fact, there are more than 50 such lawsuits at the present time which speak to the same.

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