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Judge rebukes UC-Santa Barbara for using ‘trauma informed’ approach in Title IX proceeding

‘Evidence of a practice’ that affects all accused students

Administrators in California public colleges should sit up and take notice of a new ruling out of the state Superior Court against the University of California regents.

Not only were they ordered to pay $31,000 to an accused student in a Title IX proceeding, but Judge Tara Desautels specifically faulted the “trauma informed” training that was used in the University of California-Santa Barbara’s proceeding against “John Doe.”

This approach to investigating sexual violence, commonly used in Title IX proceedings nationwide and increasingly in police investigations, has come under fire from neuroscience researchers and legal experts as unscientific and biased against accused people. It essentially tells investigators and adjudicators to view inconsistent and shifting explanations by accusers as evidence they were victimized.

A previous Superior Court order in November had found there was “an unacceptable risk that the investigator was not unbiased.” It also said that UCSB’s Interpersonal Violence Appeal Review Committee had let Brian Quillen, lead principal investigative analyst in the Title IX office, “base his evaluation of credibility” on what he believed was a “trauma informed approach” to investigating sexual violence.

Finally, the review committee failed to exercise “independent judgment” when it reviewed Quillen’s report, and instead conducted an unpermitted “substantial evidence review” of the report.

Having already decided this, Judge Desautels was tasked with determining damages for the UC regents.

“This case resulted in the enforcement of an important right affecting the public interest,” the Wednesday order reads. “The petition sought relief from an order of suspension concerning a single student [John Doe], but in the process enforced the right to due process in academic sexual harassment investigations and proceedings.”

Doe’s victory also “conferred a significant benefit” on students who may be subject to the review committee’s authority in the future, Desautels wrote.

Though the uncertainty of the investigator’s neutrality was specific to Doe, the overarching process by which he was judged was evidence of a “practice” that applies to all students:

The [review committee] explained that the Title IX office decides what information is appropriate in [its] hearings and Quillen stated he was “100% confident that this is private employment information that neither party is entitled to, nor will they receive access to it.” The Investigator’s use of what Quillen understood to be the “trauma informed approach” was part of his training, and thus evidence of a practice, and the [review committee] held that he was not required to disclose the training, which appears to be further evidence of a practice.

The review committee was also “unclear on whether it was sitting as a trier of fact” – required by its own policies – or simply reviewing Quillen’s report for “substantial evidence.” Thus, its procedures and framework are “internally inconsistent and uncertain” as a practice, the judge wrote.

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