Campus Due Process Litigation Tracker

Gendia v. Drexel University, No. 2:20-cv-01104 (E.D. Pa. Sep. 2, 2020)

School type: Private
State: Pennsylvania
Federal Circuit: Third
Decision primarily favorable to: University
Stage of litigation: Motion to dismiss
Keywords: Basic fairness, Breach of contract, Cross-examination, Selective enforcement, Title IX, Training materials

The court granted Drexel University’s motion to dismiss.

Plaintiff sued Drexel for Title IX violations and breach of contract after he was expelled from the university for violating its policy on intimate partner violence. Plaintiff and his ex-girlfriend, Jane Roe, both filed complaints against one another in March 2018 for conduct stemming from a relationship “characterized by emotional volatility.” She alleged that he had choked her, threatened to kill her dog, and punched her in the face. He alleged that she had sent him harassing and threatening text messages and attempted to punch her in the face. After a hearing on all of the allegations, Plaintiff was expelled and Roe was given a brief suspension.

Plaintiff claimed that Drexel’s investigation and adjudication of his and Roe’s claims was biased on the basis of gender, in violation of Title IX. He alleged, among other things, that Drexel presumed his guilt while presuming Roe’s innocence and excluded evidence that he offered but not evidence that she offered. The court held, however, that Plaintiff had not connected any of these alleged procedural shortcomings to gender bias, a prerequisite to a Title IX claim.

Plaintiff also cited training materials he believed to be biased, including materials referring to women as victims and men as perpetrators of sexual assault. The court also found this allegation insufficient, citing a Second Circuit decision which held that using female pronouns for complainants and male pronouns for respondents was insufficient evidence of gender bias.

Finally, Plaintiff pointed to the fact that while both parties had been found responsible for intimate partner violence, he had received a much harsher sanction. The court held, however, that because the parties had engaged in different conduct, the different sanctions did not raise an inference of discrimination. The court rejected a comparison to the Third Circuit’s recent decision in Doe v. University of the Sciences, where the university did not even investigate the plaintiff’s allegations against female students, noting that here, the university had investigated both parties, found both parties responsible, and even sanctioned both parties.

Plaintiff also alleged that Drexel’s investigative and adjudicative process violated its contractual promise to students of a “a fair adjudicatory and resolution process” for Title IX complaints. The court found, however, that Drexel’s process had satisfied the requirements set forth by the Third Circuit in Doe v. University of the Sciences: there was a live hearing, and Plaintiff had the opportunity to cross-examine his accuser, albeit indirectly through a hearing panel. While the Third Circuit did not specify whether indirect cross-examination would satisfy the fairness requirement, the district court “decline[d] to read University of the Sciences as requiring live cross-examination by an accused or his representative as a prerequisite to fairness.”