Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Doe v. University of the Sciences, No. 19-2966 (3d Cir. May 31, 2020)

School type: Private
State: Pennsylvania
Federal Circuit: Third
Decision primarily favorable to: Student
Stage of litigation: Motion to dismiss
Keywords: Basic fairness, Breach of contract, Cross-examination, Single investigator, Title IX

The court reversed the lower court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s Title IX and breach of contract claims against the university.

Plaintiff was accused by two female students of engaging in non-consensual sex. The two accusers — Jane Roe 1 and Jane Roe 2 — were sorority sisters, and Plaintiff’s complaint alleges that after Roe 1 came forward, the university encouraged her to disclose confidential information about her complaint to others in an effort to find more complainants. According to Plaintiff, Roe 2 filed her complaint just days after Roe 1.

Plaintiff filed a federal lawsuit alleging both that the university had violated Title IX in the adjudication of his case, and that the university had breached its contract with him by failing to provide a procedure that was “conducted with fairness,” as promised in the university’s student handbook.

In analyzing Plaintiff’s Title IX claim, the court rejected the framework for analyzing Title IX claims set forth by the Second Circuit in Yusuf v. Vassar College, 35 F.3d 709 (2d Cir. 1994), which established two specific categories of Title IX violations stemming from campus disciplinary actions: erroneous outcome and selective enforcement. The court instead adopted the more “straightforward” Title IX standard employed by the Seventh Circuit in Doe v. Purdue University, 928 F.3d 652 (7th Cir. 2019), and held:

[T]o state a claim under Title IX, the alleged facts, if true, must support a plausible inference that a federally-funded college or university discriminated against a person on the basis of sex.

Applying this standard, the court held that Plaintiff’s complaint “contains plausible allegations supporting the reasonable inference that USciences discriminated against him on account of his sex.” The court first held that the university may have “succumbed to pressure from the federal government” to treat allegations of sexual misconduct against men differently from those against women. The court also held that Plaintiff had plausibly alleged that the university enforced its sexual misconduct policy in a discriminatory way, bringing charges against him for having sex with Roe 2 after she had been drinking even though there was evidence that he’d had just as much to drink.

The court also held that the university may have breached its contract with Plaintiff by failing to provide him with a fair procedure, as promised in the university’s policies. The court looked at the word “fairness” in the context it was used, and held:

Here, the fairness promised by the Student Handbook and the Policy relates to procedural protections for students accused of sexual misconduct, and Doe alleges that he did not receive a “fair and impartial hearing.” In this context, a “fair hearing” or “fair process” “is a term of art used to describe a ‘judicial or administrative hearing conducted in accordance with due process.’” [Internal citations omitted.]

The court then held that

We hold that USciences’s contractual promises of “fair” and “equitable” treatment to those accused of sexual misconduct require at least a real, live, and adversarial hearing and the opportunity for the accused student or his or her representative to cross-examine witnesses—including his or her accusers.