Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Doe v. Western New England Univ., 228 F. Supp. 3d 154 (D. Mass. 2017)

School type: Private
State: Massachusetts
Federal Circuit: First
Decision primarily favorable to: Student
Stage of litigation: Motion to dismiss
Keywords: Breach of contract, Title IX

University’s motion to dismiss granted in part and denied in part.

This case involved a sexual encounter in which the complainant alleged she had not consented to masturbating Plaintiff, but did not dispute that she “never explicitly voiced any disinclination to masturbate [Plaintiff] or tried to pull her hand away.” The university’s operative definition of consent at the time of the incident was thus critical in determining whether or not Plaintiff had violated university policy.

The court dismissed Plaintiff’s Title IX claim, holding that the complaint “offers no sufficient evidence —- indeed, no evidence of any kind beyond conjecture —- supporting a claim that discrimination on the basis of gender was a motivating factor in Defendants’ decision to suspend Plaintiff.”

The court allowed Plaintiff’s breach of contract claim to proceed, however, because

In issuing its November 2015 sanction letter, the [disciplinary body] relied not on the provisions of the applicable 2014-2015 Handbook, but on language contained in its Title IX policy. It is undisputed that this policy was not in effect in September 2014 when [Plaintiff and the complainant] had their fateful encounter.

Because the Title IX policy defined “coerced sex significantly more broadly than the Handbook,” the decision to apply that policy may have affected the outcome of Plaintiff’s case. Therefore, the court held that “at a minimum, Plaintiff is entitled to discovery before losing his day in court on this issue.”

The case later settled.