Sanctions Halted for PSU Student Accused of Sexual Misconduct
A Penn State University pre-med student accused of forcible sexual contact with another student has successfully had school sanctions prohibiting him from registering for new classes lifted.
U.S. District Judge Matthew W. Brann of the Middle District of Pennsylvania granted an injunction for the John Doe plaintiff, who was accused of digitally penetrating a fellow student, referred to in court papers as Jane Roe, against her will.
Roe had reported the incident to school officials Sept. 7, 2016. She told them Doe had kissed her and touched her underneath her clothes, before the nonconsensual penetration occurred. Doe contested the recounting of events, but the university's Title IX decision panel ultimately suspended him and took away his on-campus privileges.
Doe appealed, arguing that the panel violated his due process rights by not following proper procedure and imposing punishment that did not fit the alleged offense.
Specifically, he argued that he was not afforded the right to confront his accuser when the panel rejected his cross-examination questions, which the panel would have asked Roe.
In his opinion, Brann examined the two factors needed for a preliminary injunction to be granted; the first, whether Doe would succeed on the merits of his claims against Penn State, and second, if he was likely to suffer irreparable harm if an injunction was not granted.
"Here, I find, at this preliminary stage in the litigation, that Penn State's failure to ask the questions submitted by Doe may contribute to a violation of Doe's right to due process as a 'significant and unfair deviation' from its procedures," Brann said.
The judge also said the investigator in the case made some questionable redactions to the record, including Doe's responses to the allegations against him in which he claimed one witness told him that Roe had feelings for him and pursued a physical relationship with him; Roe's statements to university police; a witness account contradicting Roe's statements about her feelings for Doe; and Roe's statements on the extent of physical contact.
"The court views with skepticism the role of the investigator in redacting this information," Brann said.
Additionally, Brann said Doe was likely to suffer irreparable harm as a result of not getting a preliminary injunction.
"Doe has shown that the absence of immediate relief during the pendency of the litigation will work irreparable harm to his professional career and advancement," Brann said.
Doe's lawyer, Andrew Miltenberg of Nesenoff & Miltenberg in New York, said Doe was headed back to class on Monday.
"Literally, his future was completely on the line," Miltenberg said.
Penn State's lawyer, Emily Edmunds of Saul Ewing in Harrisburg, did not respond to a request for comment.