Doe v. Johnson & Wales University, C.A. NO. 18-CV-00106-MSM-LDA (D.R.I. Nov. 26, 2019)
12/04/2019John Doe, a former Johnson & Wales University (“JWU”) student, survived a motion for summary judgment on his breach of contract and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing claims. Doe’s Title IX erroneous outcome claim was unsuccessful because he failed to show gender was a motivating factor in JWU’s decision to expel him.
Distinguishing this case from the recent First Circuit decision in Doe v. Trustees of Boston College, No. 19-1871 (1st Cir. Nov. 20, 2019), the Court noted that unlike Massachusetts, which has extensive case law defining “fundamental fairness,” Rhode Island does not have a clear definition of the word “fair.” The Court held that a reasonable jury could find that the guarantee of a “fair” proceeding would create a reasonable expectation that Doe was entitled to greater procedural protections than he received.
Doe’s main concerns related to JWU’s alleged failure to adequately explain the process to him. While JWU informed Doe that he could contact them with questions, and that he was permitted to bring relevant materials and witnesses to the proceeding, Doe had no familiarity with the process and still did not understand whether he could submit written questions to be asked of the complainant, or whether he could make an opening or closing statement. The Court held that “a reasonable juror could decide that it is not ‘fair’ to require a student who knows little or nothing to figure out what s/he does not know in order to ask productive questions.”
JWU was granted summary judgment on the Title IX erroneous outcome claim because Doe failed to show gender was a motivating factor. The Court noted that without a smoking gun, Doe and others in his position must rely on statistical evidence to support their claims. There was no smoking gun, and a single reference to the complainant being a possible “victim” was not enough to prove gender bias. Additionally, the fact that a relatively small number of students adjudicated were female was insufficient to prove gender bias because JWU was able to demonstrate that the disparity was the result of the majority of students accused of sexual misconduct being male.