USI student loses Title IX appeal following sexual assault suspension

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A male student at the University of Southern Indiana was unable to halt his suspension for sexual assault after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals found he did not show he was discriminated against because of his sex.

John Doe, a pseudonym for the plaintiff-appellant, was alleged to have sexually assaulted a female student given the pseudonym Jane Doe. The university delegated the investigation and hearing process to outside consultants, a committee of two lawyers and an educator from an independent firm that specialized in Title IX services.

At the hearing, the advisers representing John and Jane could not object during questioning, but they did cross-examine the witnesses. A few weeks after the hearing, the committee found by a preponderance of evidence that John was “responsible” for committing sexual assault and imposed a three-semester suspension.

John appealed within the university’s grievance system, but the committee’s decision was upheld.

Eventually, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana received John’s complaint alleging the university discriminated against him on the basis of his sex in violation of Title IX. After briefing and oral argument, the district court denied his motion for a preliminary injunction. 

The 7th Circuit affirmed in John Doe v. University of Southern Indiana, 22-1864.

“We emphasize, though, that the district and appellate courts do not provide third and fourth forums — after the university committee’s hearing and the administrative appeal — to decide what actually happened between Jane and John on the night of November 13-14, 2020,” Judge David Hamilton wrote for the court. “In reviewing the denial of a preliminary injunction under Title IX, the question before us is whether John is likely to be able to show the university discriminated against him on the basis of his sex in suspending him on the basis of Jane’s complaint and all available evidence.”

John presented three arguments to support his claim: public pressure on the university to respond aggressively to complaints of sexual assaults by male students, “procedural irregularities” in the university’s grievance process and the weight of evidence regarding Jane’s complaint.

The appellate court was not persuaded by the public pressure argument, pointing out that the case was handled by an outside firm and not by university faculty or administration.

Also, regarding the 12 errors that John argued occurred during the procedural process, the court was likewise unconvinced. It described some as nonerrors while others were either errors that John arguably invited or that applied equally to both parties.

Finally, as for the committee ultimately believing Jane’s account, the 7th Circuit noted John changed his story of the events, and witnesses contradicted his denials on certain details.

“Just as few trials are perfect, the hearing in this case was not perfect,” Hamilton wrote. “There is room to criticize the proceedings. But John has not shown that the imperfections or the final decision against him were likely the products of intentional bias against his sex.”

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