Court Dismisses Students’ Title IX Claim For Failure To Plead A Viable Theory Of Liability

CATEGORY: Private Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Private Education
DATE: Feb 03, 2020

In December, a United States District Court in Louisiana dismissed a complaint brought by two former male students (Plaintiffs) against Dillard University in which they alleged the university violated Title IX by suspending them pending the outcome of its Title IX investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct brought against them by a female student and by delaying its investigation pending a criminal investigation.  The Court accepted all of the factual assertions in the Plaintiffs’ complaints as true, which is customary when ruling on a motion to dismiss.  Those facts are as follows:

While Plaintiffs were juniors at the university, they engaged in a sexual encounter with a female student.  The Plaintiffs alleged that the sexual encounter was consensual, but the female student alleged that the Plaintiffs raped her.  The university suspended the Plaintiffs pending the completion of a criminal investigation by the local police department and a Title IX investigation by the university.  The terms of the suspension prohibited the Plaintiffs from being on campus and participating in activities that involved the university.  The university permitted the Plaintiffs to complete their spring semester coursework through electronic communications with their professors.  The terms of the suspension also permitted Plaintiffs to request to meet with the university’s Vice President for Student Success to appeal their suspensions.  The Plaintiffs’ counsel requested a meeting on their behalf, but the request was not granted.

In preparation for fall classes, the Plaintiffs registered for classes and on-campus housing using the university’s registration system.  The university also contacted the Plaintiffs and informed them of their financial aid status and accepted the Plaintiffs’ scholarships, grants, and loans for payment for the upcoming school year.  The university permitted the Plaintiffs to be on campus to visit the administrative offices to take the steps needed to start classes for the fall semester.  Shortly thereafter, the university then informed the Plaintiffs that they were being dropped from classes for non-attendance and may potentially lose the tuition they paid for the semester.  At that time, the District Attorney had neither accepted nor refused the criminal charges against the Plaintiffs.

Title IX prohibits educational institutions that receive federal financial assistance from excluding or discriminating against an individual based on sex.  There are four theories of liability that a student can assert under Title IX to challenge a university’s disciplinary proceeding: (1) erroneous outcome; (2) selective enforcement; (3) deliberate indifference; and (4) archaic assumptions.  However, the court found that the Plaintiffs failed to allege that the university treated them unequally or discriminated against them based on their sex by delaying its investigation and suspending them pending the investigation, which was fatal to their Title IX claim.

Specifically, the court found that the Plaintiff’s erroneous outcome theory failed because the university was still investigating the sexual misconduct allegation and had not reached a decision (i.e., an outcome had yet to occur).  Their selective enforcement theory failed because the Plaintiffs did not allege the university decided to investigate the complaint because of the Plaintiffs’ sex or that any female students were treated more favorably in a similar situation.  Further, the Plaintiffs’ deliberate indifference theory failed because they did not show that the university was deliberately indifferent to sexual harassment, sexual discrimination, or sexual assault on campus.  Finally, the Plaintiffs’ archaic assumptions theory failed because the Plaintiffs did not allege that the university’s actions in delaying its investigation and imposing an interim suspension were based on archaic assumptions about the roles of the behavior of men and women.

Therefore, the court concluded that the Plaintiffs failed to provide any facts to support their assertion that the university violated Title IX.

Givens v. Dillard University (E.D. La., Dec. 3, 2019, No. CV 19-12448) 2019 WL 6492850.