Metro, University News

Judge bars Brown from suspending student found guilty of sexual assault

Student initially suspended until fall 2018 in disciplinary hearing process has ‘reasonable likelihood of success’ in lawsuit against U

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Updated June 1, 2016 at 6:35 p.m.

The fate of an anonymous John Doe remains unclear after a federal district court judge rejected the University’s decision to suspend him for two years for sexual misconduct in April, according to court documents. Though the University found Doe responsible for assaulting another student in an April 14 hearing and gave him written notice April 20, Chief Justice William E. Smith ruled that the functional expulsion would cause him “irreparable harm for which an award of monetary damages would not be sufficient.”

The rejection was on the grounds of breach of contract, meaning that Doe’s lawyers argued that the University is at fault for applying definition of consent established in “Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment, Sexual Violence, Relationship and Interpersonal Violence and Stalking Policy” — a document that was adopted by the University Sept. 3, 2015, 10 months after the alleged incident occurred — to the case in Doe’s disciplinary hearing. As a result, Smith found that Doe had “a reasonable likelihood of success” in his suit.

After the University was barred from suspending him until fall 2018, Doe filed an amended complaint with more information about the initial University disciplinary hearing for which Doe is suing the University and Ann Roe, the pseudonym of the woman who claims he sexually assaulted her.

In her complaint to the University, Roe described a pattern of unreciprocated advances from a teammate on the mock trial team. Though initially consisting of lewd text messages and inappropriate personal interactions, the harassment concluded in an alleged instance of sexual assault that led Roe to meet with Title IX Program Officer Amanda Walsh as well as Associate Dean and Director of Student Support Services Maria Suarez.

Through these meetings, Roe obtained a no-contact order against Doe which allowed her to “feel like (she) could focus on school and not have to continually fear him assaulting (her) again,” according to the court documents. Despite this, the two were forced to co-exist on the mock trial team even after the assault, something Roe indicated she could tolerate until she realized Doe had a pattern of harassment that extended beyond her case, according to court documents detailing Roe’s account.

Though initially he was to remain off campus, Doe succeeded in obtaining a restraining order against the University April 25, which was extended twice — first through May 16 and then May 21. The injunction prevented the University from enforcing its April 20 decision to have Doe leave his residence hall and campus.

Both Doe and Roe appealed the sanction imposed at the April 14 hearing. Roe appealed the decision April 25, asking that the panel instead impose a “permanent separation from Brown University,” citing a Facebook post Doe posted on his fraternity’s Facebook page. The post, written by Doe, stated that “there is a special place in hell for girls who seek revenge against those who don’t text them back and ignore them by claiming that they were sexually assaulted.”

In his own appeal letter to Walsh, Doe appealed the guilty verdict of a Title IX panel owing to “substantial procedural error and the overwhelming weight of the evidence that is contrary to the panel’s finding.” Doe specifically faulted the panel for expanding the definition of sexual misconduct to include “manipulation,” something that was absent from the 2014 code. Giving examples of synonyms like “influence,” “maneuver” and “finagle,” Doe tried to make the case that an act of manipulation “is not comparable to the examples of sexual misconduct provided in the 2014 code.”

Doe’s expulsion was initially to last until fall 2018 – after Roe graduated – something Smith found intolerable as at the time of filing, there was only a month left of the academic year. In addition, Smith took issue with the timing of the University’s decision which occurred nearly a year and a half after the assault in question.

A temporary restraining order may allow a student to remain in status during an appeals process or provide an opportunity to complete an academic semester when the end of the semester is near. Such orders do not apply to a student’s long-term enrollment status,” wrote Brian Clark, director of news and editorial development, in a statement to The Herald.

While the judge’s temporary restraining order against the University allowed Doe to finish his semester, the ruling on the lawsuit itself — if it has come to a resolution by the fall — will dictate whether the student is allowed to enroll in the fall.

It is unclear as of yet whether or not the University will appeal the decision.