Lawsuit Alleges Bias in University Sexual Assault Investigation

November 21, 2016

Already in the midst of five open Title IX investigations, Cornell is now facing a lawsuit alleging that the University’s Title IX coordinator, Sarah Affel, neglected to investigate a complaint by a student who was involved in a sexual assault.


The lawsuit states that two students — referred to as John Doe and Jane Roe — accused each other of sexual assault and says the University opened investigations into both complaints.


However, according to the lawyer behind the suit, Alan Sash, Cornell’s investigators only considered Roe’s complaint and ignored Doe’s on the basis of his gender.


He said that Cornell violated its own policy 6.4 — the University’s guidelines for investigating discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault and violence — which was revised in August in order to be more fair to both parties involved in assault investigations.


The suit claims that, among other infractions, the investigator refused to properly handle Doe’s complaint, conducted biased interviews against Doe in favor of Roe and presented as evidence an unrecorded interview that could not be fact checked by Doe.


In addition, the suit alleges that Doe was mistreated during the investigation, saying investigators denied him opportunities to speak with his lawyer before answering certain questions and refused to request that Roe preserve certain pieces of evidence that she possessed.


After the initial sexual assault investigation, the suit says that Doe sent a 17 page letter to Affel detailing how he was discriminated against during the investigation, and Affel responded by recommending that he meet with Deputy Title IX coordinator, Laurie Johnston, to file a complaint.


However, after not responding to inquiries about the status of the investigation, Doe realized that his next claim was also not being conducted as he had expected.


After his lawyer reached out to Johnston, the coordinator allegedly presented Doe with a complaint form for his signature 10 days after she was supposed to. However, Johnston said that until his first policy 6.4 complaint was resolved, she would not investigate the second one.


Sash noted that, although he understands that sexual assault is prevalent problem on college campuses, cases must be handled fairly for all parties involved.


“Cornell has given us a revolving door of excuses as to why it won’t investigate our complaint,” Sash said. “That’s unacceptable. If Cornell is serious about tackling sex discrimination, then it must investigate all complaints even if it means investigating people on the payroll.”


Since this is an active case, the University did not comment other than to say that it will “vigorously defend against this litigation,” according to Senior Director of Media Relations John Carberry.

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