Penn State hit with second lawsuit over investigative model in sexual assault cases

Last week, a Syrian Penn State student filed a lawsuit against Penn State over how its recently-altered disciplinary model handled his sexual misconduct case. Now, another student involved in the same case has come forward to combat the newly-piloted “Investigative Model.”

Both lawsuits were filed against Penn State, its president Eric Barron and the Senior Director of the Office of Student Conduct, Danny Shaha.

This model, piloted in April, is a result of one of 18 recommendations made by Barron’s sexual assault task force in January.

The newest lawsuit, “John Doe II vs. the Pennsylvania State University,” argues many of the same claims as the initial case over the disciplinary model filed last week, and both seek to invalidate a two-semester suspension.

Doe II, a third-year student in the College of Electrical Engineering, was one of the three fraternity brothers involved in an alleged sexual misconduct case at their fraternity house.

According to court documents filed Tuesday, a female, whose sister was with her, offered Doe I, Doe II and two other brothers a “fivesome” and performed oral sex on three of the brothers, including Doe I and Doe II. The female claims she was too intoxicated to give consent to the acts.

Doe II was suspended from the university on Oct. 23 and is seeking to injunct the university from enforcing its disciplinary suspension and any other sanctions imposed, as Doe I did, according to the documents.

The student argues the disciplinary process will place his life on “hold” for a year and slim his chances of finding employment, joining the armed services or transferring to another university, according to the documents.

Kristen Houser, Chief Public Affairs Officer with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, said proponents of the Title IX investigative model believe it provides due process for both the accused and accuser.

“If you have a trained investigator who is trained in the issue of sexual assault, they’re less likely to make errors that are based in mythology, personal perceptions and misinformation that’s widely believed in our culture about sexual assault that can work against either person,” Houser said.

Others, however, are more critical of the investigative model.

Matthew McLenahen, a State College-based criminal defense attorney, said false accusations could arise because the investigative model is not as in depth as a criminal investigation.

Unlike criminal investigations, which require proof beyond a reasonable doubt that an incident occurred, Title IX investigations only have to prove that an incident “more than likely occurred.”

Houser said there is “paranoia” in current culture about someone being wrongly accused, and the bottom line is that these are disciplinary, not criminal, cases.

Houser said the appeals seem to be rooted in the belief that if proceedings normally used in a criminal proceeding are not followed, then due process has been violated — two issues she described as conflating.

“This does not result in a criminal conviction, there is no criminal record,” Houser said. “This is about schools maintaining safe environments.”

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