A federal judge has dismissed the complaint an anonymous male student lodged against Columbia College of Chicago regarding accusations of sexual assault, saying the male student couldn’t demonstrate female students accused of sexual assault would be treated any better.
In an opinion issued Oct. 25, U.S. District Judge Amy J. St. Eve granted Columbia’s motion to dismiss the complaint the student, identified only as John Doe, filed Jan. 30. In that lawsuit, he named a female, identified as Jane Roe, as a defendant, as well.
The root issue is a sexual encounter that purportedly occurred Dec. 11, 2015. After the incident, Roe told school officials she was incapacitated by alcohol and accused Doe of assault. The school suspended Doe for the 2016-2017 academic year.
Doe maintained all physical contact was consensual and he declined Roe’s request to engage in intercourse, saying she falsely accused him of assault because his rejection angered her. He further said the incident led to retaliatory conduct from Roe and other students, arguing he should have been protected from such behavior under the school’s Title IX policy. He also said Columbia’s disciplinary proceeding violated his rights under Title IX and under the school’s own policies.
In rejecting Doe’s claims against Columbia alleging the creation of a hostile environment and deliberate indifference, St. Eve explained analyzing Title IX protections requires distinguishing between issues that are sexual in nature, or simply tied to a soured personal relationship, and those in which discrimination is based specifically on gender.
“Doe’s own allegations make clear that he was harassed because of his relationship with Roe and because of his status as a person accused of sexual assault, not because of his gender,” St. Eve wrote. “Roe and her followers’ social media statements about Doe, for example, labeled him a ‘predator,’ a ‘rapist’ and a ‘danger’ to CCC’s students. Even viewed in the light most favorable to (Doe), these statements are not gender-based harassment because they derive solely from Doe’s status as a person who Roe and her friends believed committed a sexual assault, not from Doe’s status as a male.”
St. Eve said Doe did allege facts that cast doubts on the accuracy of his disciplinary proceeding, but none suggesting “gender bias was a motivating factor.” His complaints about the process and the school’s policies at large “are indicative, at best, of a bias in favor of sexual assault complainants and against those accused of sexual assault, regardless of gender,” she wrote. Doe’s claim of selective enforcement failed because he didn’t accuse Columbia of treating similarly situated female students more favorably.
Doe’s Title IX retaliation claims failed because his own allegations establish Columbia disciplined for a legitimate reason and because he failed to show how his protected activity — complaining about harassment from Roe and her friends — was connected to Columbia’s “retaliatory motive” for failing to discipline anyone. St. Eve also pointed out the school did not discipline Doe for reported harassment on his part.
St. Eve also explained the broad statements in Columbia’s policy manual “are not the type of unambiguous promises that can support a promissory estoppel claim,” and further said several courts determined universities aren’t obligated to protect students from the actions of other students and other third parties, which she said compromised Doe’s negligence claim.
She also scuttled his emotional distress claims, saying he offered only a “boilerplate allegation” of extreme and outrageous conduct, harming his intentional infliction claim, and rejecting his negligent infliction claim on the same grounds she used in dismissing the broader negligence claim.
St. Eve’s dismissal was without prejudice, giving him until Nov. 15 to file an amended complaint.
Doe is represented in the action by the Saper Law Offices, of Chicago, and Rosenberg & Ball Co., of Granville, Ohio.
Columbia is defended by the firm of Franczek Radelet P.C., of Chicago.