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Student sues USA after Title IX hearings

The DOE is reviewing Title IX.

The DOE is reviewing Title IX.

Jake Cannon

Jake Cannon

The DOE is reviewing Title IX.

Hannah Clayton, Reporter

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A male USA student, known only as “John Doe,” is suing the University of South Alabama following several Title IX hearings, according to Mobile county court records.

Title IX regulates all institutions concerned with education that receive federal funding, whether they are public or private, and was expanded in the past 15 years to include sexual misconduct, according to the Department of Education.

Historically, Title IX is most well-known for its application in women’s athletics as the law makes requirements such as “female and male student-athletes receive athletics scholarship dollars proportional to their participation,” according to the DOE.

John Doe, a Mobile county resident, was found to be the responsible party in two Title IX complaints concerning sexual misconduct filed in late 2016, while he attended USA on an Army ROTC scholarship, according to court records.

In his Aug. 31 court hearing, as part of his motion, Doe cites “the decision of the University of South Alabama (“USA”) to impose disciplinary sanctions against the Plaintiff [Doe] in violation of his constitutional rights and in violation of the University’s own rules, regulations, and procedures” as grounds for suing the university, according to court records.

The original Title IX complaints were filed by three female USA students, known in the court records as Roe 1, Roe 2 and Roe 3.

Roe 1 and Roe 2 filed a Title IX complaint with USA citing an event that occurred on or around Sept. 4, 2016. The two were involved in a threesome with Doe, during which Roe 1 and Roe 2 were under the influence of alcohol and therefore could not consent, according to Doe’s recollection of events during the court hearing.

Roe 3, a sorority sister of Roe 1 and Roe 2, filed a Title IX complaint concerning a sexual encounter with Doe that took place three months prior. Roe 3 was under the influence of alcohol and also unable to consent, according Doe’s testimony.

Doe filed his own Title IX complaint against Roe 3, citing that she had intentionally failed to inform him that she was diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease prior to their sexual encounter, according to the hearing.

The University Disciplinary Committee found Roe 3 not responsible in the case of Doe’s Title IX complaint, according to court records.

The UDC found Doe as the responsible party following the hearings and suggested he be removed from the ROTC scholarship program, suspended from USA until Spring 2018, complete 20 hours of community service, attend 12 hours of educational training and remain on academic probation until the completion of his undergraduate studies, according to court records.

When Doe appealed the ruling, Dr. Michael Mitchell, Vice President and Dean of Students and Deputy Title IX Coordinator, denied the appeal, according to court records.

Doe cites many events as violation of his due process and civil rights, such as the allowing of the UDC to consider unsworn witness testimonies, the misconduct of a Title IX advocate and the mismanagement of his own Title IX complaint against Roe 3 because he is male, according to court records. Title IX advocates are University staff trained by the Mobile Rape Crisis Center, according to the University website.

Additionally, Doe mentions the controversial “Dear Colleague Letter” released by the Office of Civil Rights in 2011 as giving the University grounds to violate his civil rights, according to court records.

According to court records from the most recent hearing, Doe requested the University provide a copy and transcript of the disciplinary and appeal hearings held by the University, as well as any investigation documents related to the Title IX hearings and complaints.

Title IX, a federal law enacted as part of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

The Office for Civil Rights enforces Title IX compliance among universities as part of the DOE.

The Dear Colleague Letter, while not legally binding, outlined how the OCR would examine a school’s Title IX compliance. The letter required schools investigate sexual misconduct even if law enforcement was involved.

As outlined in the USA sexual misconduct policy located on the University webpage, when an individual makes a Title IX complaint, the Title IX coordinator will follow up with the complainant and then appoint an Investigating Officer to the case.

Dr. Krista Harrell, the Associate Dean of Students & Title IX Coordinator at USA, is responsible for training, administration and education of all Title IX procedures within the university and provides complainants “with assistance and support,” according to the USA policy.

USA defines sexual misconduct in the University policy as “an umbrella term that includes sex discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual violence, domestic violence, dating violence, stalking and retaliation,” according to the policy.

USA uses several categories to determine whether an act of sexual misconduct constitutes a hostile environment, such as but not limited to, the age of the potential victim, the length of the event and the severity of the conduct, according to the policy.

The Title IX coordinator then implements interim measures if he or she deems necessary. In Roe 1 and Roe 2’s Title IX complaint this meant filing a “no contact” order on Doe, according to court records.

If the respondent does not claim responsibility for the misconduct following the Investigating Officer’s decision that the complaint is valid, the UDC holds a hearing, according to the policy.

The hearing is comprised of the complainant, the respondent and the UDC. The UDC is comprised of both students and staff that have completed training coordinated by a Title IX Deputy Coordinator, according to the policy.

The UDC listens to the Investigating Officer summarize his or her findings as well as witnesses from either party before retiring to make its decision, according to USA’s policy.

USA’s document detailing “Victim’s Rights in Cases of Sexual Harassment, Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence and Stalking” states the University uses a standard of proof called “the preponderance of evidence” when determining the responsibility of a sexual misconduct complaint. This means that the violation of the Student Conduct Policy “more than likely” occurred, according to the policy.

Individuals found responsible of violating the sexual misconduct policy are subjected to disciplinary action that ranges from requiring the individual not repeat the behavior, to expulsion or dismissal, according to the policy.

Both parties are informed of the UDC’s decision following the hearing and the Title IX Coordinator informs the respondent of the disciplinary action suggested. Both have the right to appeal the decision within five days of receiving notice. Appeals are handled by the Dean of Students, Dr. Michael Mitchell, and are final, according to the policy.

The ability of either party to appeal the hearing results was another part of the Dear Colleague Letter heavily scrutinized by critics, as originally only the respondent held the right to appeal.

Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced her intention to make changes to the Title IX policy, while revoking the Dear Colleague Letter on Sept. 22, according to a press release by the DOE.

DeVos said that her department would follow normal rulemaking procedures and that they would solicit public comments on the matter, unlike the last released set of guidelines, according to the DOE website.

The revisions will include the removal of the “preponderance of evidence” standard and promptness requirements as well as giving schools the right to decide who can appeal and requiring schools to consider equal interim measures for both parties, according to the DOE.

Following DeVos’s press release, many groups such as ServJustice, a national nonprofit concerned with victims of sexual assault rights, voiced concerns that the Title IX revisions would only help accusers and not victims of sexual misconduct. ServJustice stated “it [the DOE] has no legal authority to advance rights for only accused students under Title IX.”

As the DOE works on its revisions, it refers schools to a “Q&A on Campus Sexual Misconduct” and the “Revised Sexual Harassment Guidance,” according to the DOE.

“[…] to me, South Alabama’s process is consistent with the DOE’s position now, just as the process has been consistent through the years,” Harrell stated in an email.

“Schools must continue to confront these horrific crimes and behaviors head-on,” DeVos said. “But the process also must be fair and impartial, giving everyone more confidence in its outcomes.”

Students can find more information concerning Title IX  and USA’s sexual misconduct policies in The Lowdown and Sexual Misconduct Policy located on the USA’s website.

Web only:  Click here to read Doe’s complaint.  

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Student sues USA after Title IX hearings