Saint Joseph’s University (SJU) has settled the lawsuit brought by former student Brian Harris, who claimed that the university violated Title IX when it expelled him for an alleged sexual assault without a fair hearing. The terms of the settlement have not been disclosed at this time.
Last May, I reported on U.S. District Judge L. Felipe Restrepo’s ruling denying SJU’s motion to dismiss three counts in the complaint but dismissing five others without prejudice—meaning that Harris could amend his complaint with respect to those counts. At that time, the surviving claims were one against a public safety officer and Harris’s accuser, Jane Doe, for defamation; one against Doe for intentional interference with a contract claim; and one against SJU for a violation of Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.
Although Harris’s claim that SJU’s policies and procedures discriminate against males in violation of Title IX was initially dismissed, it survived SJU’s second motion to dismiss his amended complaint, which elaborated on this and four other counts. In the same November 25 ruling, Judge Restrepo granted SJU’s motion to dismiss Harris’s breach of contract claim for a second time.
Harris and SJU settled the case on January 5.
Dozens of lawsuits have been filed by students alleging their colleges wrongly punished them for alleged sexual misconduct without a fair hearing. The problem of colleges abandoning principles of due process is becoming worse as institutions struggle to abide by their unclear and apparently ever-changing obligations under Title IX to respond to sexual assault on campus. It is, therefore, significant that Harris’s Title IX claim was still in play when the case was settled. Although there was no final judgment on the claim in Harris’s case, it may serve as a warning to colleges and universities that they have more than just a moral reason to uphold the rights of the (mostly male) students accused of sexual assault.
SJU is not the first university to reach such a settlement. Torch readers may recall that in March 2014, Xavier University settled a similar lawsuit brought by former student Dez Wells after the majority of his 11 claims against the university—including one for breach of contract and one for Title IX discrimination—survived its motion to dismiss.