United States: Important Case Update Regarding University Title IX Investigations

Last Updated: July 26 2019
Article by Lauren A. Cullen, Leander A. Dolphin and Joette Katz

The District Court of Connecticut recently decided an important case involving Title IX investigations. In John Doe v. Quinnipiac University, 2019 WL 3003830 (D. Conn. July 10, 2019), a male undergraduate student, John Doe ("Doe"), claimed the university treated him unfairly in its Title IX investigation into alleged misconduct by him against two female students, Jane Roe and Jane Roe 2. The court found in favor of the university on some claims, permitting other claims to survive.

Factual Background

Two female students who were previously in a relationship with Doe alleged Doe committed intimate partner violence. Upon learning this information, Quinnipiac University began a Title IX investigation and issued a "no contact" order, instructing each of the involved students that they were not to contact each other pending the outcome of the investigation.

During the investigation, Doe filed a complaint against Jane Roe and Jane Roe 2 for sexual harassment, intimate partner violence, and stalking in violation of university policies and the no contact order. The university investigated this complaint, but was unable to substantiate Doe's claims.

As for the claims against Doe, the university ultimately found Doe to have engaged in misconduct, and imposed various sanctions.

Doe appealed the decision and subsequently filed a complaint against the University, seeking damages and injunctive relief for alleged violations of Title IX and state common law.

The university filed a motion for summary judgment on all of Doe's complaint, which included claims of spoliation, violations of Title IX in the investigation and disciplinary processes, breach of contract, breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing, tortious interference with contract, and negligence. The District Court of Connecticut granted the university's summary judgment motion in part, including on the deliberate indifference, tortious interference, negligent infliction of emotional distress and negligence claims. However, the court permitted the spoliation, Title IX, breach of contract and reckless and wanton misconduct claims to proceed, finding that there were material facts in dispute with respect to those charges.

Destruction of Evidence

Doe asserted that the university was liable for destruction of evidence because the investigator and hearing officer shredded their handwritten notes. In the investigator's defense, she explained that she only destroyed the handwritten interview notes after having "typed the interview."

Nevertheless, the court found that the hearing officer and investigator had a duty to preserve such documents, as they directly related to Doe's claims that he had been subjected to an unfair process. The court determined these facts established an adverse inference that the notes likely contained evidence supporting Plaintiff's Title IX claims. Accordingly, the court denied the motion for summary judgment.

Title IX Claims

Doe brought three claims under Title IX, including erroneous outcome, selective enforcement, and deliberate indifference.

To establish a claim for erroneous outcome, a plaintiff must show specific facts that cast doubt on the accuracy of the disciplinary proceeding. A plaintiff must also show that gender bias was a motivating factor behind the erroneous outcome. The court denied the university's motion for summary judgment on this claim because there was some evidence that the investigator credited Jane Roe's statement that she felt unsafe, while failing to credit Doe's statement that he felt unsafe. This alleged act of differential treatment was enough to raise questions about the accuracy of the outcome of the disciplinary proceeding, and therefore, this claim survived the motion for summary judgment.

Relatedly, a selective enforcement claim requires a showing that, regardless of the student's guilt or innocence, the severity of the penalty and/or the decision to initiate the proceeding was affected by the student's gender. In denying the university's motion, the court focused on three alleged instances in which the university treated Jane Roe and Jane Roe 2 more favorably than Doe:

  1. Reporting and investigating Jane Roe and Jane Roe 2's allegations about Doe as Title IX matters, while ignoring Doe's reporting of stalking and harassment by both women.
  2. Forcing Doe to file a formal complaint against Roe in order to have his allegations investigated, against Doe's express wishes, and not requiring Jane Roe 2 to file any complaint at all in order to begin investigating her allegations.
  3. Using an incorrect definition of Intimate Partner Violence in Doe's hearing, which required fewer elements to be proved, while using the correct definition in the second investigation to find Roe not responsible for charges "based on the same evidence" in the same time frame.

The court determined that these alleged instances demonstrated a triable issue of fact as to whether Doe was subject to an unfair process when compared to the treatment of the female students, and therefore denied the university's motion for summary judgment on this count.

Lastly, in order to prevail on a claim of deliberate indifference, a plaintiff must show that a university's response was clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances. The court granted the university's motion for summary judgment as to Doe's deliberate indifference claim, determining that the university did, in fact, investigate his claims of sexual harassment, and did not substantiate the claims. Therefore, a factfinder could not determine that the university's response was clearly unreasonable.

State Law Claims

Doe also asserted various state law claims against the university, including breach of contract, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and negligence.

Notably, the court denied the university's motion for summary judgment with regard to the breach of contract claims. Among Doe's 29 claimed breaches of contract, Doe alleged the university breached its promise to comply with Title IX; respond to complaints promptly; guide complainants "with regard to how much detail is needed in an initial report"; and select a second trained investigator to assist with the formal investigation. The court determined that whether the university's policies created an enforceable contract must be decided by a factfinder.

The court did grant the university's motion for summary judgment on the claims of negligent infliction of emotional distress and negligence. Courts have historically barred negligence-based claims of "educational malpractice," and the court here explained that this bar also applies to decisions regarding student discipline.

Key Takeaways

The recent decision by Judge Arterton in John Doe v. Quinnipiac highlights several key lessons for universities conducting Title IX investigations. First, all handwritten notes must be preserved as evidence, in addition to any formal typed notes. Second, the procedures for filing and investigating complaints by male and female students must be identical. Third, statements by male students concerning fear for safety should be taken as seriously as those made by female students. Ensuring such a fair process will best enable a university to avoid allegations of disparate treatment and reach a fair outcome for all parties.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions