Recent Lawsuits

There have been several recent lawsuits related to student rights under Title IX.  Below are some examples of cases filed against colleges and universities. 

John Doe v. Purdue University, 928 F.3d 652 (7th Cir. 2019)

In 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit decided Doe v. Purdue University. In this case, the university found a male student guilty of sexual violence against a woman. As a result, the male student was suspended for an academic year with conditions on his readmission. He was then expelled from the Navy ROTC program which also terminated his ROTC scholarship and his plan to pursue a career in the Navy. Subsequently, the student filed a claim for monetary relief under 42. U.S.C Section 1983 against Purdue University and university officials alleging that his expulsion after he was found guilty of committing sexual violence violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by using constitutionally flawed procedures to determine his guilt, and violated Title IX by imposing a punishment based on sex bias. 

The district court dismissed the student’s suit.  However, the Seventh Circuit disagreed and determined that the student adequately alleged violations of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title IX. On the Title IX claim, the court found that the male student’s gender bias claim should have made it past the dispositive pleadings stage considering, among other facts, the university’s resource center shared a Washington Post opinion article arguing that men, not alcohol, cause sexual assault on campus. The court remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings.

John Doe v. University of the Sciences, 961 F.3d 203 (3rd Cir. 2020)

In this case, a male student sued a private university after being expelled for allegedly violating the university’s sexual misconduct policy when two female students accused him of sexual misconduct. At the time of the expulsion the student had completed nearly all of the coursework required to earn a degree in biomedical science. The male student’s claim alleged sex discrimination in violation of Title IX as well as breach of contract.

The district court dismissed the student’s claim. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal holding that the student’s complaint contained plausible allegations claims for sex discrimination under Title IX considering, among other facts, that the university selectively investigated the male student and not the female students involved. The court determined that when the male student’s allegations about selective investigation of only the male student and not the female students is combined with his allegations related to the university’s pressure to comply with the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, the male student stated a plausible claim of sex discrimination.

Doe v. Oberlin College, 963 F.3d 580 (6th Cir. 2020)

In Doe v. Oberlin College, a male student brought action against a private college alleging sex discrimination under Title IX. The college chose to expel him after a female classmate brought a sexual assault complaint against him. The district court granted the college’s motion to dismiss. The Sixth Circuit in that case, however, reversed the district court’s decision after finding that the student sufficiently alleged that his expulsion was the result of sex bias.

Schwake v. Arizona Board of Regents, 967 F.3d 940 (9th Cir. 2020)

In this case, a graduate student brought action against a university alleging that it violated Title IX by discriminating against the student on the basis of sex during the disciplinary proceedings. The district court dismissed the case but the Sixth Circuit reversed in part and remanded finding that the student’s allegations were sufficient to state a Title IX sex discrimination case considering, among other factors, that the university failed to review exculpatory evidence submitted by the male student.

Recent Class-Action Lawsuit

Hunter v. Department of Ed

In the spring of 2021, the Religious Exemption Accountability Project initiated a class-action lawsuit against the Department of Education on behalf of several LGBTQ students who attended faith-based colleges or universities. These students allege they were subject to discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. They are asking the court to declare the religious exemption of Title IX to be unconstitutional because it violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

If successful, the Department of Education would be prohibited from granting such exemptions. Christian colleges and universities who act on their sincerely held beliefs about sexual orientation and gender identity would no longer be able to claim this exemption in Title IX discrimination claims. Such an outcome could put faith-based institutions at risk of losing federal funding, including student financial aid.

In a recent court filing, the United States Department of Justice indicated that their “ultimate objective” was to uphold the Religious Exemption in Title IX and that they would “vigorously” defend the law. The Department has amended that strong language after public backlash, but they indicated they will still honor their obligation to defend federal statutes in court.

References
1. U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Education, Joint Press Release and Dear Colleague Letter. May 13, 2016.