Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Doe v. Rhodes College, No. 2:19-cv-02336 (W.D. Tenn. June 13, 2019)

School type: Private
State: Tennessee
Federal Circuit: Sixth
Decision primarily favorable to: Student
Stage of litigation: Motion for TRO/preliminary injunction
Keywords: Cross-examination, Erroneous outcome, Title IX

Plaintiff’s motion for a temporary restraining order was granted in part and denied in part: the judge enjoined Rhodes from enforcing its expulsion of Plaintiff pending the outcome of the suit, but denied Plaintiff’s request that Rhodes be enjoined from refusing to confer his degree, because other degree requirements had not yet been met.

Plaintiff’s accuser, while incapacitated, told her friends that she had been raped by several people at a fraternity party. She also alleged that a female student was somehow involved in the assault. It is unclear, given the accuser’s mental and physical state at the time she made the accusations, whether any assault actually took place, and “[e]very witness who was present at the SAE party testified that they were regularly in the presence of [Plaintiff’s accuser] and nothing happened.” Plaintiff’s accuser did not participate in the hearing, and Plaintiff had no opportunity to cross-examine her. He was expelled.

The court first found that Plaintiff had demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of his Title IX “erroneous outcome” claim. Citing Doe v. Baum, 903 F.3d 575 (6th Cir. 2018), the court held that the fact that Plaintiff was not permitted to cross-examine his accuser, in a case that turned on credibility, was sufficient to establish articulable doubt. As for a connection between the potentially erroneous outcome and gender bias, the court held that (1) the public attention caused by anti-sexual-misconduct protests at Rhodes College during the time of Plaintiff’s proceedings “may have put pressure on Defendant to confirm that it took sexual misconduct allegations seriously.” The court also found that (2) the record suggests that the university credited all testimony from female witnesses while rejecting all testimony from male witnesses, another indicator of gender bias.

The court held that Plaintiff would suffer irreparable harm in the absence of a TRO, because “the disciplinary action taken against him has already damaged his reputation and may affect his ability to enroll at other institutions of higher education and to pursue a career.”

Finally, the court held that the balance of harms favored granting the TRO: “Clearly, courts are not prohibited from protecting against procedural irregularities in school disciplinary proceedings that amount to due process violations.”