Ever since campus sexual assault and universities’ obligations under Title IX became a topic of public concern, schools have seen a sharp rise in the number of lawsuits filed by male students alleging gender discrimination. In the past few months alone, Columbia University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Chicago have all been hit with gender discrimination suits by male students who allege that university-run sexual assault investigations violate their rights under Title IX, as well as their right to due process.
The University of Pennsylvania is the latest school to be hit with a gender discrimination lawsuit for its handling of a sexual assault complaint. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that last week, a Penn senior identified only as John Doe filed a lawsuit against the university. Doe’s lawsuit is a twist on the more familiar gender bias suit. Instead of seeking readmission to the university or redress for a “tarnished image,” Doe is seeking to stop disciplinary proceedings already in process. His lawsuit describes Penn’s discipline process as “sham proceedings.”
Doe also argues that race played a role in the university’s decision to move forward with disciplinary hearings. His lawyer told the Inquirer that the stereotype of the “young African American male as aggressor” was central to Penn’s decision to investigate Doe.
But if Doe’s lawsuit is slightly different from previous ones, then his arguments are familiar enough:
Among them is that the university uses a “preponderance of the evidence” standard in sexual-misconduct cases, meaning that an assault is more likely to have occurred than not. In contrast, the criminal justice system requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt for conviction.
Also familiar is the sexual assault narrative in question. According to Doe’s lawsuit, both he and his accuser were drinking, though he argues both were conscious and sober. Doe alleges that the two engaged in consensual sex; she alleges that she was raped. Philadelphia police arrived at Doe’s home the next morning, but the Inquirer notes that “it is not clear from court filings” whether or not he was ever arrested (his lawyer declined to discuss any criminal case).
The university subsequently launched its own investigation and recently recommended that Doe be expelled for violating Penn’s sexual assault policy. A university panel still has to decide whether or not to accept the investigation’s recommendation. Doe, however, alleges that
[...] he was never given notice of the specific allegations against him until the report was issued, and that the university investigator ignored factors undermining his accuser’s credibility and changed language in her statement to make Doe’s actions appear more sinister than she had described them.
Penn is standing by their investigation. In a response to Doe’s lawsuit the university said there can be no “irreparable harm,” since the university panel has yet to make a decision. In the meantime, Doe is asking the court to stop the university panel from making a decision and $600,000 in damages.