Male student lawsuit against Oberlin College dismissed despite possibly flawed sexual assault disciplinary decision
Court: Plaintiff has not alleged facts showing “a ‘particularized…causal connection between the flawed outcome and gender bias.’”
In 2017, Oberlin College was sued by an expelled male student who had been found responsible for sexual assault in a campus disciplinary hearing. The student, identified only as John Doe, alleged a seriously flawed hearing process as well as discrimination on the basis of sex because the process allegedly was biased against men.
We first covered the case, and the motion to dismiss filed by Oberlin, in Lawsuit: Oberlin College sexual assault hearing process rigged, 100% conviction rate:
A male student who was expelled from campus in October 2016 for alleged sexual assault has filed a federal lawsuit against Oberlin. Though the lawsuit was filed in June 2017, it has not received any publicity. Yet the lawsuit contains allegations which, if proven, reflect that Oberlin’s system for adjudicating sexual assault accusations was fundamentally biased against males, at least during the 2015-2016 academic year.
This is a problem at other campuses we have covered dozens of times, the so-called kangaroo courts which serve as rubber stamps under pressure from Obama Education Department Office of Civil rights guidance. It’s a pressure that Betsy DeVos is starting to roll back in favor of protecting due process rights of the accused.
The following documents in John Doe v. Oberlin College, filed in the Northern District of Ohio, are referenced below:
The facts of the case showed, as so often happens in these cases, two drunk students. The dispute and the hearing turned on whether the female student was deemed “incapacitated” under Oberlin policy. In that prior post I described the allegations:
The details of the sexual encounter and recriminations are all too familiar to anyone who has read the complaints being filed around the country regarding higher education sexual assault adjudications.
According to the Complaint, the encounter started as consensual by everyone’s account, including sexual intercourse. There were text messages and other evidence that at least at the start, both parties were on board. At some point, the female asked for intercourse to stop because she was experiencing physical discomfort from the intercourse, and the male stopped. At that point the male requested that the female perform oral sex on him, and she did.
The alleged violation of the campus code took place only on the issue of consent to oral sex, not the preceding intercourse and other sexual relatoins. Just prior performing oral sex, the female made a comment that she was “not sober.” That comment would become the central issue as to whether the female was “incapacitated” (and therefore unable to give true consent) under the Oberlin code and whether the male reasonably should have known that.
As in so many cases, the allegation of sexual assault was not made immediately, but only after a period of time. There was no claim of use of force during the female’s initial interactions with friends or interview with an investigator. At the hearing that would change, and she alleged the use of force to push her head down during oral sex.
Of note, the plaintiff alleged the entire discipline process was tainted by anti-male bias:
54. And in every single case sent through the formal process, the respondent was found responsible on at least one charge:
When the threshold was met [for formal resolution], findings of responsibility on all charges occurred in 70 percent of processes. In the remaining processes, the responding party was found responsible for some but not all of the conduct charges.29
Oberlin, consistent with the “anti-rape culture” ethos instilled by the 2014 Policy, and distilled so purely by the school newspaper’s Editorial Board and the school’s Counseling Center, literally never told a complaining student, at the end of an adjudication process, “We don’t believe you.” The Oberlin employees who preside over hearings, and who judge appeals, have quite literally credited, at least partially, the allegations of every single student who came before them in the 2015-16 academic year, as of the date of this report.
55. Upon information and belief, the vast majority of the Oberlin students who bring sexual misconduct complaints are women, and the vast majority of the Oberlin students accused of sexual misconduct are men….
The plaintiff later added allegations to the case, Update: New allegations in lawsuit by expelled male student over Oberlin College 100% conviction rate. You can read the full Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint (pdf.) and the proposed Amended Complaint.
Here is the key argument from the Motion:
On January 10, John Doe became aware of a YouTube video in which Meredith Raimondo, the architect and chief implementer of Oberlin’s Title IX regime at the time Mr. Doe was a student there, spoke openly about the gender bias with which she approached Title IX enforcement at Oberlin, especially in cases like Mr. Doe’s—ones that involved neither predators nor sex with someone who is fundamentally unconscious. Ms. Raimondo noted that such cases are often called “grey areas” and stated her belief that referring to those cases as “grey areas” of consent discredits “women’s experiences of violence in particular.” Ex. 1 (Amended Complaint) ¶ 59. Those comments, and others discussed below, are direct evidence that gender bias shaped Oberlin’s adjudication of claims like Jane Roe’s. They are precisely the type of facts that suffice to state an “erroneous outcome” claim under Title IX.
The court granted the motion to amend, and an Amended Complaint was filed. The led to a new motion to dismiss, very similar to the original.
It took almost a year, but the Court finally ruled on the motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint.
In the Order (pdf.)(full embed at bottom of post), the Court ruled that plaintiff, though having cast doubt on the correctness of the disciplinary panel ruling against him, had failed to allege facts showing such error was due to discrimination against men. Accordingly, the Court dismissed the federal claims with prejudice, but dismissed related state law claims (which might not require such a causal connection to sex discrimination) without prejudice. That means that John Doe can bring the state law claims in state court (and of course, can appeal the dismissal to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.).
Here is the key portion of the Order on the correctness of the disciplinary panel ruling:
With respect to the first prong of the erroneous outcome standard, the court, drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of Plaintiff, finds that his accusations create “some articulable doubt” as to the accuracy of the hearing board’s decision in the present case. Here, Plaintiff points to the length of the investigation in this case (120 days) as being excessive and without explanation. Oberlin’s Policy states that investigations typically will be completed within twenty days. Plaintiff further argues that third-party testimony from Jane’s friends present that night indicates that there were no outward signs of Jane’s intoxication that a stranger could recognize. Plaintiff also alleges there are inconsistencies between Jane’s Investigation Testimony and her Hearing Testimony regarding the circumstances surrounding the oral sex. In the investigative interview, Jane stated that Plaintiff asked her to perform oral sex. However, in the hearing, Jane testified that Plaintiff grabbed her neck and forced her to perform oral sex. Plaintiff maintains that the hearing board based its entire decision on a single piece of evidence to support their conclusion that Jane was incapacitated, her statement that “I am not sober.” In addition, Plaintiff also alleges that the hearing board improperly applied its own definition of incapacitation outlined in the Policy. The only issue here is whether Plaintiff has met his pleading burden, and these allegations indicate that he has. See Doe v. Univ., of Cincinnati, No. 1:16CV987, 2018 WL1521631, at *5 (S.D. Ohio Mar. 28, 2018) (finding that the plaintiff pleaded sufficient facts to cast articulable doubt where he was not allowed to confront and question Roe through the panel which would have undoubtedly aided the truth-seeking process and reduced the likelihood of an erroneous deprivation); Miami Univ., 882 F.3d at 592 (same where the plaintiff alleged unresolved inconsistency in Roe’s statement, unexplained discrepancy in hearing panel’s finding of fact, and alleged use of an erroneous definition of consent).
The Court, however, found insufficient allegations of a causal connection to sex discrimination:
With respect to the second prong of the erroneous outcome standard, the court finds that Plaintiff has not alleged facts showing “a ‘particularized…causal connection between the flawed outcome and gender bias.’” Miami Univ., 882 F. 3d at 593 (citing Cummins, 62 Fed. App’x. at 452 (quoting Yusuf, 35 F.3d at 715.)) The Sixth Circuit explains that, “[s]uch allegations might include, inter alia, statements by members of the disciplinary tribunal, statements by pertinent university officials, or patterns of decision-making that also tend to show the influence of gender.” Miami Univ., 882 F.3d at 594 (quoting Yusuf, 35 F.3d at 715). In an effort to show this particularized causal connection, Plaintiff asserts: (1) gender bias pervades the entire adjudication process, illustrated in part by comments made by Dr. Raimondo, (2) Campus Climate Statistics for 2015–2016 show gender bias, and (3) the Dear Colleague Letter and the OCR Investigation created an environment ripe for such gender bias. The court finds that, taken together, these assertions are insufficient to meet Plaintiff’s pleading burden.
I have reached out to plaintiff’s attorney’s and Oberlin’s spokesman for comment, but as of this writing have not received any responses.
This case show how hard it is to prevail even when the correctness of the underlying disciplinary decision is in doubt. That is why having a fair process with due process protections is so important. There is no assurance that a bad college disciplinary decision that ruins the life of an innocent accused will be reversed by the courts.
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