In an opinion issued today, an Ohio federal judge dismissed a former Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) student’s Title IX lawsuit against the university. The student, who was expelled from CWRU’s medical school after the university found him responsible for sexual misconduct, alleged he was innocent and that bias against male students motivated the university’s erroneous decision. The court’s ruling is the latest in a recent line of cases suggesting accused students’ Title IX lawsuits cannot survive without concrete evidence of gender bias.
The judge ruled the plaintiff had established “a plausible claim that [he] was innocent of the charges levied against him and that CWRU wrongly found that [he] committed the offense.” However, he had not—as is required to establish a Title IX sex discrimination claim—“made factual allegations that create a plausible claim that the motivating factor behind the erroneous finding was CWRU’s sexual bias.”
This is why Title IX is such an imperfect vehicle for accused students seeking redress from the courts for denials of due process in campus sexual misconduct proceedings. To prevail on a Title IX claim, it is not enough to show that one was denied fundamental aspects of due process, or even that the denial stemmed from a university’s bias against accused students. This is because, as one judge recently explained, a bias against accused students could be the result not of gender bias but of “lawful, independent goals, such as a desire (enhanced, perhaps, by the fear of negative publicity or Title IX liability to the victims of sexual assault) to take allegations of rape on campus seriously and to treat complainants with a high degree of sensitivity.” Doe v. Columbia University, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52370, *34 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 21, 2015) (dismissing plaintiff’s Title IX claim).
Rather, a plaintiff in a Title IX case must come forward with evidence of actual gender bias, as opposed to a bias against accused students more generally. For example, in Doe v. Washington and Lee—one of the very few Title IX claims by an accused student to survive a motion to dismiss—the plaintiff showed evidence that the university’s Title IX coordinator had endorsed an article positing “that sexual assault occurs whenever a woman has consensual sex with a man and regrets it because she had internal reservations that she did not outwardly express.”
Similarly, in Harris v. Saint Joseph’s University, the plaintiff’s Title IX claim survived the university’s motion to dismiss because the plaintiff alleged that “the head of SJU’s ethics department and a member of the Community Standards Board … stated to Plaintiff’s father that SJU had ‘adopted a policy favoring female accusers as SJU was concerned about Title IX charges by female students.’”
In addition to his Title IX claim, the CWRU plaintiff brought several state-law claims, including breach of contract. In his opinion today, the federal judge dismissed those claims without prejudice, meaning that the plaintiff can re-file them in an Ohio state court.
We at FIRE will continue to watch the case with close interest.