Student’s gender-bias lawsuit against Columbia may proceed, court rules
After two years of legal back-and-forth, a Columbia student will be allowed to sue the University, which he claims violated his Title IX rights in an adjudication process that found him responsible for sexual assault.The student, identified by the pseudonym “John Doe,” initially filed a lawsuit against the University in the spring of 2014. But after a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit following a motion from Columbia, Doe challenged the judge’s decision in a federal appeals court—and won.
“It is entirely plausible that the University’s decision-makers and its investigator were motivated to favor the accusing female over the accused male,” the decision said, though it “in no way suggests” that the court “has any view, one way or the other” on Doe’s complaint itself.
In the lawsuit, Doe alleged that a “pro-female, anti-male bias” influenced former Title IX investigator Jilleian Sessions-Stackhouse, a sexual assault hearing panel, and Columbia College Dean James Valentini as they investigated his case, issued him a one-year suspension, and denied his appeal, respectively.
Doe’s lawsuit also says that public pressure pushed these decision-makers to rule against Doe, who was then a first-year varsity rower, “in order to avoid further fanning the criticisms that Columbia turned a blind eye to such assaults.”
While the April 2015 decision from the federal judge effectively ruled that Doe lacked a strong enough legal argument to go to court, the appeals court decision suggests that there is “nothing implausible or unreasonable” about his claims.
In particular, the decision overrules the district court judge’s claim that public pressure to rule one way is not sex discrimination, instead arguing that this sort of bias could still violate Title IX.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. There’s a good legal analysis at Washington Post.