Doe v. University of Kentucky

Doe v. University of Kentucky

Public Justice filed two amicus briefs in support of the Appellant in Doe v. University of Kentucky, a rape case involving the scope of Title IX’s prohibitions on harassment and retaliation.

In 2014, plaintiff Jane Doe was enrolled in a program at a community college that partners with the University of Kentucky. Three weeks into her first semester, a University of Kentucky student stalked and raped her in the dorm where she lived. After she reported the assault, the university held three successive hearings and found the student responsible for rape after each one—but it tossed out each result after an internal appeal found procedural errors. Jane eventually dropped out of her program because of the stress caused by the ordeal.

In 2015, Jane sued the university under Title IX for its deliberate indifference to her sexual assault. The university promptly retaliated. First, it delayed the anticipated fourth hearing for 15 months, citing the lawsuit. Then, the university’s Chief of Police deceived a key witness – the campus police officer who responded to Jane’s rape – into missing the hearing. When the witness herself reported the tampering to university administrators, they refused to act. At the hearing, the school allowed the respondent to cross-examine Jane about her lawsuit. The university then reversed its prior three findings and found Jane’s assailant “not responsible” for the rape. Based on these actions, Jane amended her complaint to add a claim of retaliation.

The district court dismissed Jane’s case, holding that the University of Kentucky owed no obligation to Jane under Title IX because Jane was not a University of Kentucky student—even though she lived, dined, and participated in student activities on the university’s campus and paid the university fees in exchange. Public Justice joined a group of women’s rights organizations to file an amicus brief to support Jane’s appeal, arguing that Jane’s participation in the university’s programs and activities brought her well within Title IX’s protection. The Sixth Circuit agreed and reversed the dismissal. See Doe v. Univ. of Kentucky, 971 F.3d 553, 559 (6th Cir. 2020).

In October 2022, however, the district court again dismissed Jane’s case, this time on summary judgment. In the interim, Jane had voluntarily dismissed her claim for deliberate indifference based on new Sixth Circuit precedent, leaving retaliation as her sole remaining federal claim. The court held that Jane’s retaliation claim failed because she was no longer a student in her university-affiliated program when the school allegedly retaliated. The court also held that a retaliatory act must be “school-related” to violate Title IX, and the university’s alleged actions through its Title IX process did not qualify.

On February 28, 2023, Public Justice filed a second amicus brief on behalf of a group of civil rights and survivor advocacy organizations in support of Jane’s second appeal to the Sixth Circuit. The brief is joined by Atlanta Women for Equality, Equal Rights Advocates, Legal Aid at Work, the National Women’s Law Center, and the Women’s Law Project.

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