Doe v. Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System

Doe v. Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System

This is a Seventh Circuit appeal concerning what counts as an educational deprivation for purposes of Title IX. While a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Jane Doe was sexually assaulted by a star member of the University’s football team (identified as “Player 1”). The University, through its own disciplinary investigation and hearing, determined Jane’s report was true and expelled Player 1. But when Player 1 was criminally tried for the same assault and acquitted – a proceeding that used a different definition of sexual assault and higher standard of evidence – the University came under significant pressure from the public and its donors to readmit Player 1 in time for the upcoming football season. The University swiftly vacated its disciplinary finding without even informing Jane it was considering doing so, let alone giving her the opportunity to provide input. The University then failed to implement reasonable measures to allow Jane to feel safe at school, requiring her to sacrifice educational opportunities to avoid Player 1. Jane missed classes, changed her planned course of study, avoided University events and campus facilities like the student union, and went home most weekends to avoid spending any more time than necessary at the University.

Jane sued the University under Title IX for its deliberate indifference to known sexual harassment. The district court agreed that a jury could find the University’s response to Jane’s report of sexual assault was clearly unreasonable. But it dismissed Jane’s case on summary judgment, reasoning that she had not been deprived of sufficiently significant educational opportunities to establish a Title IX claim. In doing so, the district court held Jane’s strong academic record against her. It reasoned that, because Jane continued to perform well in school after the harassment and the University’s decision to readmit Player 1, she could not prove that these events were serious enough to detract from her educational experience.

Public Justice joined the case on appeal to the Seventh Circuit. Jane’s opening brief was filed November 1, 2022.  RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) filed an amicus brief in support of Jane. The Seventh Circuit heard oral argument in the case on February 14, 2023.

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