Doe v. Bd. of Trs. of the Univ. of Ala., No. 5:14-cv-2029-MHH, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43864 (N.D. Ala. Mar. 13, 2020)
04/14/2020Jane Doe was sexually assaulted by a fellow University of Alabama-Huntsville (“UAH”) student at a UAH dorm after Jane had consumed too much wine to be capable of consent. UAH’s student conduct board found the respondent, L.U., responsible, in part because he confessed, and expelled L.U. On appeal, Dr. Wren, UAH’s appeal officer for sexual misconduct cases, reduced the sanction to two semesters, delayed until the summer semester. UAH moved for summary judgment on Jane’s deliberate indifference cause of action. The Court denied UAH’s motion finding that reasonable jurors could conclude that UAH protected a male student respondent and was deliberately indifferent to the sexual assault of a female student and the safety of the campus community.
To establish deliberate indifference, a plaintiff must establish not only that the school district was deliberately indifferent to known acts of harassment, but also that the known harassment was “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denied its victims the equal access to education that Title IX is designed to protect.” The Court’s decision focused on whether UAH was deliberately indifferent and whether the harassment was “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive.”
In finding that a reasonable juror could find UAH deliberately indifferent, the Court relied upon the fact that UAH had a record of choosing not to file charges in known instances of forced sex and of allowing students who sexually assaulted others to withdraw from the university before the university imposed sanctions that would impact the students’ records. Incredibly, Dr. Wren’s emails showed that he did not agree with the decision to expel L.U. because “[UAH] have people walking around  campus that are known to have committed worse sexual conduct than [L.U.] and they were never charged. I’m wondering if the [student conduct board] would consider that in evaluating whether this case should have been brought or not.” There was also evidence that the campus police discouraged Jane from filing criminal charges against L.U. and that UAH did not offer Jane any support or accommodations to help her cope with L.U.’s continued presence on campus.
While Jane was able to maintain her grades and graduate from UAH, the Court found that there was sufficient evidence to support a finding that the harassment she suffered was “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive.” Jane sought counseling, where she was prescribed anti-depression and anti-anxiety medication, she considered suicide, was afraid unable to sleep alone at night, and was so terrified of people on campus that she rarely left her dorm except to attend classes.
The Court ultimately denied UAH’s motion for summary judgment, and the case will be set for trial.