Title IX / College Discipline Practice - Warshaw Burstein LLP | Doe v. Am. Univ., 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 171086
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  • Doe v. Am. Univ., 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 171086
    Plaintiff was a student at American University when Jane Roe, spent the evening at Doe’s apartment with a mutual friend, H.S. Doe and H.S. were drinking alcohol and Roe had consumed a marijuana brownie. Doe alleged that the brownie did not appear to have a noticeable effect on Roe, who began kissing Doe when H.S. left the room. Doe claimed she placed his head on her breasts and crotch and alleged that he had asked her for consent multiple times to which Roe continuously responded “yes.” 

    Before she left, Roe allegedly hugged Doe and thanked him for being caring. Roe, however, alleged that the brownie made her feel “out of it,” though she agreed to physical contact when H.S. left the room. Roe claims she had expressly given consent, though she felt peer pressured to do so by Doe and H.S., who had returned to the room. Roe alleged that soon after, the encounter became forceful and she became scared before ordering an Uber and leaving with H.S. Roe subsequently filed a complaint against Doe resulting in a University investigation into Doe, which resulted in a year-and-a-half suspension. Doe brought suit against American University for its alleged mishandling of the allegation. 

    Under Doe’s Title IX claim, the District Court for the District of Columbia adopted the standard set forth by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals which states that “to state a claim under Title IX, the alleged facts, if true, must support a plausible inference that a federally-funded college or university discriminated against [the plaintiff] ‘on the basis of sex.’” The court found that Doe successfully pleaded that “sex was a motivating factor in the university’s decision to discipline” him because the University’s review board “credited exclusively female testimony” and “rejected all of the male testimony.” The Court also found that the Title IX investigator did not give adequate consideration toward Doe’s side of the story and the numerous inconsistencies contained within Roe’s allegations, and that the school had actively promoted a lop-sided approach to Title IX complaints in favor of female complainants. 

    The Court found the existence of an enforceable contract between the University and Doe based on the existence of a contractual relationship, and that the Student Code of Conduct (the “Code”) and the Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Policy (the “Policy”) formed a part of that relationship. The language of both the Code and Policy set forth detailed obligations, processes and procedures which bound both students and the University, and demonstrated “both an intent to be bound and a mutuality of obligation,” with “no comparable contract disclaimer” to similar cases which found no contractual relationship. 

    Doe’s breach of contract claim ultimately survived the motion to dismiss on three separate theories: that the University breached (1) the purported promise of repose afforded under the 2016 Code’s one-year complaint period by allowing Roe to file her complaint against Doe nearly three years after the alleged incident without requiring a written complaint and extenuating circumstances, (2) the duty to conduct a “thorough and impartial investigation,” and (3) the obligation to afford Doe the chance to seek recusal of sanctioning panel members based on a conflict of interest.  

    Finally, Doe’s negligence claim failed because his allegations were “duplicative and unsustainable.”