College Could Expel Student For Repeating Sexual Assault Allegations That An Investigation Found To Be False

CATEGORY: Public Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Public Education
DATE: Feb 28, 2024

Saniyyah Rasheed attended Mt. San Antonio College on and off from 1975 to 2019.  On December 4, 2017, the College held a Disciplinary Conference for Rasheed.  At the Disciplinary Conference, Rasheed accused faculty member Grace Hansen of sexually assaulting her in Fall 2016.  In January 2018, the College began an investigation into Rasheed’s sexual assault allegations.  In May 2018, the investigator concluded that the faculty member had not engaged in the alleged conduct.  The College gave Rasheed a summary of the investigative report and informed her of her right to appeal the decision.  Rasheed did not appeal.

However, Rasheed continued to accuse Hansen of sexual assault.  On October 18, 2018, the College warned Rasheed that repeating statements that the investigation had found to be false could violate the College’s Standard of Conduct and be grounds for discipline.  On August 18, 2018, Rasheed attended a class she had been dropped from. Police and Campus Security instructed her to leave the classroom, but she refused.  On September 6, 2018, the College held a Disciplinary Conference with Rasheed regarding the classroom incident.  On October 17, 2018, the College suspended Rasheed and began expulsion proceedings.  On December 5, 2018, the Student Conduct Board held a hearing to address the classroom incident and Rasheed’s continued accusations against Hansen.  On July 3, 2019, the College notified Rasheed that she was expelled.

Two years later, on June 28, 2021, Rasheed filed a lawsuit in federal court against the College and Board of Trustees.  Rasheed argued that her expulsion was unlawful retaliation in violation of Title IX, the First Amendment of the US Constitution, the California Constitution, and Education Code section 66301.  The College asked the trial court to dismiss Rasheed’s claims through summary judgment.  The trial court agreed.

To state a claim for Title IX retaliation, Rasheed would need to show that (1) she engaged in protected activity, (2) she experienced an adverse action, and (3) there was a causal link between the two.  The trial court held that Rasheed failed to show a causal link between protected activity and her expulsion.

Next, the trial court dismissed Rasheed’s First Amendment and California Constitution free speech retaliation claims, because her continued accusations were not constitutionally protected speech.  The College’s Standards of Conduct said the College could discipline students for libel and slander.  The trial court held the College’s enforcement of this rule was reasonable and did not violate constitutional free speech rights.  Colleges may enforce viewpoint neutral rules that limit speech, so long as they are reasonable.

Finally, the trial court dismissed Rasheed’s claim under Education Code section 66301.  Section 66301 prevents UCs, CSUs, and CCDs from disciplining students solely based on speech that would be constitutionally protected if it occurred off campus.  The trial court dismissed Rasheed’s section 66301 claim because libel and slander are also prohibited outside of the College.

Rasheed appealed the trial court’s dismissal of her Title IX and Education Code section 66301 claims to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal.  For the Title IX claim, Rasheed argued that the trial court applied an overly strict standard when it held that she had failed to establish a causal link between her accusations and expulsion.  The Ninth Circuit held that even if the trial court had applied an overly strict standard for the causation element, the dismissal was still proper because Rasheed failed to establish that her continued accusations were protected activity.  In a Title IX retaliation claim, the plaintiff must have reported conduct that they reasonably believed was unlawful.  She did not produce any evidence indicating that she had a reasonable belief that Hansen had engaged in unlawful conduct.  The Ninth Circuit also pointed to the fact that Rasheed never appealed the College’s investigation findings.

Finally, the Ninth Circuit dismissed Rasheed’s claim under Education Code section 66301.  First, as in the Title IX claim, Rasheed failed to establish that her continued accusations were protected speech.  Second, even if the speech was protected, Rasheed was expelled for both her continued accusations and the unrelated classroom disruption incident.  Section 66301 only prevents colleges from imposing student discipline “solely on the basis of” the protected speech.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of Rasheed’s case.

Rasheed v. Mt. San Antonio Coll. (9th Cir. Dec. 12, 2023, No. 23-55129) 2023 U.S. App. LEXIS 32735.

View More News

Public Education Matters
U.S. Supreme Court Declines To Hear Case On Admissions Policy
Public Education Matters
New Prison To Cal State Transfer Program