Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Doe v. University of Chicago, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 153355 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 20, 2017)

School type: Private
State: Illinois
Federal Circuit: Seventh
Decision primarily favorable to: Student
Stage of litigation: Motion to dismiss
Keywords: Erroneous outcome, Title IX

The court granted in part and denied in part the university’s motion to dismiss.

Plaintiff was accused of sexual misconduct by two female students, Jane Roe and Jane Doe.

Jane Roe accused Plaintiff of sexual assault in early 2014. He was not found responsible by the campus hearing committee. Roe subsequently distributed and published online a list of “people known to commit varying levels of gender-based violence,” including Plaintiff. She also falsely claimed that Plaintiff had been found responsible for the assault, and demanded that he be removed from a class that she was also taking. The university removed Plaintiff despite his objections and never disciplined Roe.

Plaintiff and Jane Doe had a sexual encounter in fall 2013, which she initially posted about on her Tumblr blog, saying that it was “beautiful and sweet and all great things.” She subsequently changed her position, claiming that it was a sexual assault and accusing the college of putting on a theater performance directed by Plaintiff in 2016. She “published a series of tweets and a Facebook post criticizing the University for putting on a show ‘directed by the boy who sexually assaulted me/many others on this campus.’”

Plaintiff filed a complaint for “online sexual harassment” with UC, which was handled by campus administrator Jeremy Inabinet. When Inabinet met with Jane Doe, Plaintiff claimed that Inabinet encouraged her to file a “retaliatory” complaint. Plaintiff was told that the university would not follow up on his complaint. When Plaintiff spoke with Inabinet on the phone during the summer of 2016, he asked Inabinet if a female student in a similar position would be treated the same way as he had, and Inabinet did not give a direct answer.

Plaintiff then sued UC for violation of the Title IX, promissory estoppel, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

On Plaintiff’s Title IX gender discrimination and selective enforcement claims, the court found that his “high-level allegations” alleging that UC fosters an anti-male environment were without merit, but that his specific allegations relating to Inabinet’s actions were sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss. As alleged in Plaintiff’s complaint, Inabinet’s encouragement to Jane Doe and his refusal to directly answer Plaintiff’s question on the phone may create a plausible inference that he engaged in gender discrimination. The court nevertheless asked Plaintiff to file a position statement on whether he was alleging that Inabinet negligently or intentionally engaged in such behavior, since negligence would not be sufficient for a discrimination claim.

On Plaintiff’s deliberate indifference claim, the court held that “the harassment [Plaintiff] complains of was not plausibly sex-based.” Rather, the court held that “the allegations suggest only that [Plaintiff] and Roe harassed him either because they believed he had committed sexual assault or because of personal—not gender—animus.”

The court allowed Plaintiff’s retaliation claim to proceed on the basis of Inabinet’s actions, finding it plausible to infer from Inabinet’s “inexplicable” behavior surrounding Plaintiff’s complaint that there may be retaliatory intent.

The court dismissed Plaintiff’s promissory estoppel claim, finding it could not survive because of the ambiguous and indefinite nature of UC’s promises to its students. His negligent infliction of emotional distress claim failed because Illinois common law follows an “impact rule” that allows for recovery under this theory only when physical injury occurred concurrently. But the court allowed the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim to proceed, since if Inabinet’s actions were deliberate, it would be plausible to say that those actions were “extreme and outrageous.”

The case subsequently settled.