The Colorado Court of Appeals recently weighed in on a private university's obligation to students who are defending sexual misconduct claims made against them. The decision is a win for students and will hopefully change the landscape of student misconduct investigations in the private school setting.
The school in the lawsuit, the University of Denver, is a private school that isn't required to apply constitutionally mandated principles of due process because it isn't a government actor. This recent court decision essentially requires DU to implement equal opportunity practices in administering disciplinary proceedings against students on theories of contract law.
How the Court Used Contract Law to Hold DU Accountable
Thefire.org reported on the case and provides, “DU's equal opportunity procedures were enforceable under Colorado contract law, determining that the procedures' commitment to providing a ‘thorough, impartial and fair' investigation, viewed in the context of the entire document, was ‘sufficiently definite to determine whether the contractual terms have been performed or breached.'”
To summarize, the court basically held that the school must honor the promises it makes to its students. It may seem odd that this case was ultimately resolved under a contract law analysis, but the court determined the University of Denver promised students a fair and impartial investigation and then broke that promise. The evidence shown in court demonstrated that the school failed to give the accused student such impartiality in the following ways:
- DU failed to consider the victim's grievance against the accused
- DU failed to examine the victim's full medical report, accepting instead only the portion she chose to submit for evidence
- DU failed to offer the accused the same opportunity to present witness testimony
Although it's incredibly important that victims have every opportunity to present their case against the accused, it's also important that those accused of sexual misconduct have a chance to defend themselves.
What to Expect Moving Forward
The ruling is a great step forward for students' rights in private universities, but it doesn't apply everywhere. Private colleges located outside of Colorado may still deprive students of equal rights. Even where a school is obligated to adhere to the ruling, there are no guarantees that the school administrators will follow obligations imposed upon them. The best way for students to protect themselves from unjust misconduct investigations is by hiring an experienced student discipline defense attorney.
Talk to an Experienced Student Misconduct Defense Attorney
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped students in private schools defend themselves against sexual misconduct claims throughout the country. The dedicated and experienced team at the Lento Law Firm knows students and their families need a serious advocate who will guide them through the investigation process. To learn how Mr. Lento can help you, call 888-535-3686 today or contact us online.