Doe v. University of the Sciences

Doe v. University of the Sciences

This appeal arose out of a male student’s Title IX claim that the University of the Sciences had unfairly disciplined him for sexually assaulting classmates. John Doe claimed that the University’s investigatory procedures violated state law and that the University was motivated by anti-male bias. A district court granted the University’s motion to dismiss, but the Third Circuit reversed, holding that Pennsylvania state law required the University to allow Doe to cross-examine his victims. The court also held that Doe had plausibly pleaded that the University had disciplined him because of his sex, pointing to the fact that the University had disciplined him but not the female students who alleged that he had sexually assaulted them—even though, unlike Doe, none of the female students were accused of sexual assault.

Public Justice and co-counsel All Rise Trial & Appellate wrote an amicus brief in support of the University’s petition for rehearing en banc. The brief was joined by the Women’s Law Project, Atlanta Women for Equality, the Harvard Law School Gender Violence Program, Know Your IX, and the National Women’s Law Center.

The amicus brief asked the Third Circuit to clarify its holding about what process ensures “fundamental fairness” in student discipline. Amici explained that the opinion might be read to forbid a common method of cross-examination that can reduce the risk of retraumatization for survivors. The brief also noted that federal courts should not answer novel questions of state law, as the panel did here, and that allegations of sexual harm should not be subjected to uniquely onerous disciplinary procedures.

The brief also argued that Doe had not adequately pleaded that the University had disciplined him because of his sex. Amici warned that an accused harassers’ alleged victims are not appropriate comparators because they are not “similarly situated.” The brief also explained that the federal government’s efforts to enforce survivors’ Title IX rights do not support an inference of anti-male bias against male students disciplined for sexual harassment.

The Third Circuit denied the petition for rehearing en banc.

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