PSU student sues university over handling of sexual misconduct
WILLIAMSPORT – Penn State has been sued for a third time by a male student who challenges the method the university uses to adjudicate sexual misconduct complaints.
The basis of the suit filed Tuesday in U.S. Middle District Court is the suspension of a student who was found to have had nonconsensual sex with a female student at the Altoona campus in 2016. The suspended student is identified as John Doe.
It is a practice of the university to not discuss pending litigation, Penn State spokeswoman Lisa M. Powers said.
Judge Matthew W. Brann, who has been assigned the new case, commented in an opinion in one of the other suits that the method used to adjudicate sexual misconduct complaints raises constitutional concerns. But the judge stopped short of ordering a change.
Like the two previous suits, this lawsuit challenges the university’s use of the investigative model to determine if a student violated the Code of Conduct. An investigator gathers the facts and prepares a draft report that is submitted to the parties for review and comments.
The final report is forwarded to a case manager who determines if it reasonably supports a violation. If charges are issued, the parties have the right to meet with the case manager and submit a written response to them.
If the respondent contests the charges, the matter is referred to a Title IX panel for a hearing that could result in sanctions ranging from suspension to expulsion.
In this case, a panel on April 20 suspended Doe through next spring’s semester and banned him from the University Park campus until he completes an assessment and any recommended treatment plus provides a favorable evaluation.
His appeal was denied in May, but the ban from the University Park campus was replaced by various stay-away provisions.
In the suit, Penn State is accused of violating Doe’s due process rights in that its policies limit an accused student’s right to be heard in disciplinary proceedings.
The suit also states the evidence did not support a finding of nonconsensual sex.
Doe seeks an injunction vacating the Code of Conduct violation finding, expunging his record and reinstating him in good standing along with unspecified monetary damages.
The plaintiffs in the three cases claim their due process rights have been violated because they are not permitted to confront their accuser and call witnesses.
Doe also argues the panel that decides whether a violation occurred should be separate from the Office of Student Conduct.
He was a 19-year-old sophomore at the Altoona campus when the incident occurred but later transferred to University Park, where he was studying electrical engineering.
According to the suit, the student and the female, identified as Jane Roe, became friend at Altoona in the fall of 2015. The friendship evolved into a sexual relationship in 2016, the suit states.
The incident that led to Doe’s suspension occurred the evening of Nov. 12, 2016, in his apartment. The court complaint gives Doe’s version:
The female student went to John Doe’s bedroom where they engaged in consensual sex after which she claims he partially penetrated her anus against her wishes. Doe denies having anal sex.
The female student did not file a complaint with the Office of Student Conduct until Sept. 12, 2017, 10 months later, although they had several text contacts in between, Doe points out.
The suit accuses the investigator, Christopher Harris, of reopening his report last January after he had submitted it to the Office of Student Conduct to make it more favorable to the female student.
The edited version deletes information on the woman’s failure to respond to Harris’s inquiries but includes her explanation for discrepancies in the original one, Doe contends.
He was not provided the opportunity to respond to the edited report or submit additional information, the court document states.
A Title IX panel concluded Doe violated the Code of Conduct by engaging in nonconsensual sexual intercourse and restraining the female student for sexual purposes but it found the vaginal intercourse was consensual.
Doe notes he was allowed to make a statement to the panel but was not permitted to confront Roe or cross-examine witnesses.