University Biased in Sex Assault Case, Student Says

September 26, 2016


     An Ivy League university discriminated against a student because of his race and gender in its independent investigation of a sexual assault, an unnamed student claims in federal court.
     According to the 51-page lawsuit, two rising University of Pennsylvania seniors — a black man and a white woman — had consensual sex on June 8. The case names the plaintiff as John Doe, and the woman who accused him of rape as Jane Roe.
     The lawsuit says that on her way home from Doe's apartment, Roe encountered her roommate, who had just returned from a trip abroad, sitting on the porch. Her roommate berated Roe for not being home to let her in as she had agreed to do, according to the lawsuit. Roe told her she had been at "some asshole's place" instead.
     Since her phone had died the night before, Roe went inside to charge it, and found threatening text messages from her roommate, the lawsuit says. Roe began to cry, and when her roommate saw this, she asked if Roe had been raped, according to the lawsuit. Roe said, "Yes."
     Roe then reported she had been raped to the Penn Police, the Penn Women's Center and the Philadelphia Police's Special Victims Unit, the lawsuit says.
     The University's Office of Sexual Violence informed Doe via email that it was launching an investigation, he says. The Office's investigator asked Doe if he and Roe had had sex, and Doe said yes, and that it was consensual, according to the lawsuit.
     Penn's Sexual Violence Policy calls consent "an affirmative decision to engage in mutually agreed upon sexual activity [that] is given by clear words or actions."
     The Office of Sexual Violence found that Roe had never said "yes" to the encounter and therefore did not give consent, according to the complaint.
     Doe learned of the accusations against him through a "Draft Report" that the lawsuit describes as "far from an objective account." The suit goes on to claim that the report "cobbled together snippets of statement that match gender and racial stereotypes, all to support the preordained conclusion [that Doe raped Roe]." The report also disregarded Roe's own statements to police that she "cooperated" during the sexual encounter, according to the complaint.
     Although Doe says he could review the report in the Office, it refused to give him copies and allowed him just seven days to prepare his own defense. Doe submitted a report that pointed out the Office was relying on second-hand witnesses who were "biased and unreliable," according to the Sept. 23 complaint.
     After a hearing, the Office ruled that Doe should be expelled and permanently labeled a sex offender on his academic record, he says.
     "Like so many other colleges and universities across the country, The University of Pennsylvania changed its Title IX disciplinary process in response to the U.S. Department of Education's 'Dear Colleague' Letter to be unabashedly pro-complainant," Doe's attorney, Patricia Hammill, said in an email. "Sexual assault on college campuses is a problem, and allegations must be treated seriously, but not at the expense of convicting the innocent and denying basic due process rights to the accused, including the right to a fair, balanced and competent investigation. That is what this lawsuit is about."
     The Department of Education's "Dear Colleague" letters serve to lay out expectations for the way schools deal with discrimination and other issues, including sexual assault.
     Doe is suing Penn on eight counts, including breach of contract, violation of Title IX and both intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. 


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