Court Of Appeal Found University Violated Student’s Due Process Rights Where University Did Not Provide Student With A Fair Hearing

CATEGORY: Public Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Public Education
DATE: Jan 30, 2023

In 2015, the Title IX compliance officer for the University of California, Davis (University) sent John Doe (John) a letter notifying him of a complaint alleging that he subjected a student, Jane Doe, to threats, verbal abuse, and physical abuse in violation of University policy. Moreover, the letter alleged John forced Jane to be a passenger in his car while he was driving under the influence. The letter stated that the University would investigate the allegation under its sexual harassment and sexual violence policy. The letter also explained that if the investigator substantiated the allegations against John, the University’s Student Judicial Affairs would schedule a formal hearing. If the hearing officer found John had violated university policy, the hearing officer would recommend disciplinary sanctions and Student Judicial Affairs would issue a decision.

The University completed its investigation into the allegations against John and determined that John violated the University’s sexual harassment and sexual violence policy by threatening Jane with physical harm, as well as driving under the influence of alcohol with her as his passenger on multiple occasions. The University sent John a notice of formal hearing, but the notice did not have any reference to any of the University’s sexual harassment or dating violence policies. The University appointed an outside hearing officer to preside over John’s hearing. At the hearing, the hearing officer did not address whether John violated any sexual harassment and dating violence policies and did not make a recommendation for appropriate sanctions. However, the hearing officer did find Jane to be more credible than John, and that the evidence supported her allegations against John. Based on these findings, the hearing officer found John violated the University’s conduct and discipline policy. The University then imposed disciplinary sanctions and suspended him until the fall of 2017 or after Jane graduated, whichever was later.

John filed a petition against the University in the trial court challenging the University’s disciplinary sanctions. John argued the University’s failure to provide him with notice and a hearing before suspending him in violation of University policy. The trial court denied John’s petition and John appealed.

On appeal, the California Court of Appeal for the Third District concluded that the University failed to provide John with a fair process. The Court of Appeal found the District did not include the policies that prohibited conduct related to sexual harassment and dating violence in the notice of hearing that John received, and the hearing officer did not address these policies at the hearing either. The Court of Appeal concluded the dating violence charges were essentially adjudicated by the investigation report rather than at John’s hearing. Because there was no hearing on these charges, the University deprived John of a fair hearing. The Court of Appeal also found that the University violated its own policy when it appointed an outside hearing officer to preside over the hearing.

Doe v. Regents of the Univ. of Cal. (2022) Super. Ct. No. CV2016765.

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