An unnamed senior sued Penn on Sept. 23 on the grounds that the University mishandled the investigation of a sexual assault accusation against him.
The student, who filed as John Doe, was accused of sexually assaulting another senior, referred to in the suit as Jane Roe, on June 8. Twelve days later, Roe reported the encounter to the Office of the Sexual Violence Investigator, which after compiling a report, recommended Doe be found responsible for violating the University’s sexual violence policy.
Doe, who is identified as African-American in the complaint, argued in the suit that the disciplinary investigation was unfair and discriminated against him on account of his race. He also claimed that Roe actively consented throughout the sexual encounter.
A draft report from the investigators “cobbled together snippets of statements that match gender and racial stereotypes” and “disregarded other facts that show affirmative consent,” Doe argued in the suit.
His suit asks for damages to cover his “emotional and psychological” well-being, a restart to the disciplinary process at Penn with a new investigative team and an allowance for Doe to remain a student at Penn.
The complaint said that a final report released later — after Doe submitted a seven page response explaining its alleged flaws and requesting a reexamination — recommended Doe be expelled and have a permanent mark placed on his academic transcript.
In a response to Doe’s motion, the University submitted a response to the court Monday morning arguing for the internal disciplinary process to play out without interference from the legal system.
As part of the school’s disciplinary proceeding, Doe requested a hearing to take place in front of three faculty members on Sept. 29, where the recommendations in the Office of the Sexual Violence Investigator’s final report could conceivably be overturned, according to the filing by Penn. Even if Doe is given the same sanctions recommended in the report, he can appeal the decision to a “trained faculty member,” who acts as Disciplinary Appellate Officer, the filing said.
Though Doe referred to the disciplinary hearing as “futile” and a “sham” in his complaint, the faculty tribunal has modified recommendations from the sexual violence investigator’s report 75 percent of the time since Feb. 1, 2015, Vice President for Institutional Affairs Joann Mitchell argued in an addendum to the University’s response brief.
In two of the four cases brought before the panel in the past, the tribunal reduced the severity of the sanctions recommended by the investigative team. In the other two cases, the panel upheld one sanction recommended by the report and overturned the investigator’s report in another case — declaring a student “not responsible” that the investigative report declared “responsible.”
The University also opposed Doe’s request for a temporary restraining order — an immediate end to the disciplinary proceeding — due to the harm to Doe.
“Plaintiff wants this Court to tell any student, anywhere, that if you are concerned about the possible outcome of a private, internal, administrative conduct process, you can go to court to try to get a restart,” the response brief stated.
Doe has also not shown that continuing the school disciplinary process constituted “irreparable harm,” the University argued.
As part of their response, Penn’s attorneys referenced similar cases that occurred at Temple University, Ohio State University and the University of Pittsburgh, where students under investigation in school disciplinary hearings sued for relief in federal court before the completion of school disciplinary proceedings. In each case, the federal court dismissed requests for temporary relief.
One slight victory for the plaintiff came on Monday, when Pennsylvania Eastern District Judge John Padova granted Doe the right to proceed in court using a pseudonym for himself and Roe.
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