Investigations; Title IX; Race and National Origin Discrimination; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence
John Doe v. Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania (E.D. Pa. September 13, 2017)
Memorandum granting in part and denying in part Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, an African-American student at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), alleged that the University breached its contractual obligation to provide a “fundamentally fair” disciplinary process; violated Title IX under theories of erroneous outcome, selective enforcement, and deliberate indifference; racially discriminated against Plaintiff under Title VI; and committed various torts, when the University suspended him for violating the institution’s Sexual Violence Policy. In support of his contract claim, Plaintiff alleged that Penn neglected to provide Plaintiff with a “fair” disciplinary process. Although finding that the Student Disciplinary Procedures constituted a contract between the parties, the court dismissed all of Plaintiff’s breach of contract claims except those regarding Defendant’s contractual obligation to conduct a thorough investigation, to train investigators and hearing panel members, and to provide a process free of gender bias or discrimination. Turing to Plaintiff’s Title IX claims, the court found Plaintiff’s allegations regarding biased training materials and a pro-complainant disposition sufficiently implicated gender bias such that the action could proceed under a theory of erroneous outcome. Although acknowledging that Plaintiff had not identified a similarly situated comparator, the court nonetheless allowed Plaintiff’s selective enforcement claim to proceed to discovery, although it dismissed the accompanying deliberate indifference claim, expressing “skepticism” about whether a respondent can bring such a claim for a cause of action arising out of dissatisfaction with the initiation and outcome of a disciplinary proceeding. The court also dismissed Plaintiff’s Title VI claim for failure to allege facts that support an inference of race discrimination, despite Plaintiff’s allegations that a different credibility standard was applied to him based on race.