News, University News

Judge rules Title IX only protects U. members

Case against U., deans dismissed following closure of U. investigation into 2014 sexual assault

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, September 22, 2017

Updated Sept. 22 1:55 p.m

A lawsuit against the University filed by a non-Brown student who was allegedly sexually assaulted by three Brown football players was dismissed by a federal judge Sept. 6, who ruled that third party students are not protected by Title IX at a school they are unaffiliated with.

In November 2016, Doe sued the University, former Senior Associate Dean of Student Life Jonah Allen Ward and Yolanda Castillo-Appollonio, associate dean and director of student conduct and vice president of campus life and student services, for mishandling her case “pursuant to Title IX and Rhode Island state law,” according to the complaint. Doe said the University did not give her a prompt investigation in accordance with Title IX, which requires federally-funded universities to address gender discrimination.

But Title IX laws “were not meant to address all instances of sexual assault occurring in the college environment,” wrote U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. McConnell ruled that Title IX only protects against gender-based discrimination of students who have been admitted to the offending school.

Two Rhode Island lawyers said the district court’s ruling sets a local precedent for how courts should interpret universities’ responsibilities under Title IX.

“Brown’s acts or failures could not have prevented (Doe) from getting an education at Providence College,” McConnell wrote. Doe withdrew from Providence College because she was “in fear for her safety and well-being on campus and in the general Providence area” since the Brown students and their friends were “not prohibited from being near her,” according to the complaint.

After the ruling, the University’s Title IX policy has not changed and anyone — regardless of whether they are a Brown student or employee — can still file a Title IX complaint to the University following this ruling, wrote Clark in an email to The Herald.

This matches the current standard at peer institutions such as Harvard, Stanford University and Wellesley College, where third parties can file Title IX complaints against their own students or employees.

At Harvard between 2014 and 2016, five complainants were not enrolled students, staff or faculty members, according to Harvard’s 2015-16 Title IX Office Annual Report.

Representatives from Stanford and Wellesley confirmed that their schools take third party complaints, such as the widely publicized Brock Turner case at Stanford.

Jane Doe was a freshman at Providence College when she was allegedly raped by three Brown football players, also freshman at the time, in a University dormitory on Nov. 21, 2013.

Two of the alleged students exchanged texts with each other at 6:14 a.m. the next day, which read, “YO LIKE CLASSIC (Student Name) THO … NO INVITE JUST WALKS IN AND STARTS RAPING HER,” according to court documents. Providence Police also obtained sexually explicit photos of Doe from one of the student’s phones.

In February 2014, the University was made aware of the rape allegations after Doe filed a complaint with the Providence Police. More than four months later, as Doe’s criminal case against two of the Brown students was proceeding, the University notified her that she could file a complaint under the Code of Student Conduct.

In April 2014, the University asked two of the accused students to leave Brown “apparently in light of the pending sexual assault investigation,” wrote John Grasso, a Providence attorney who represented an accused student.  Grasso said Brown allowed his client to finish his work from home, according to the Providence Journal. Of the three involved Brown students, one left the University while two remained as students, The Herald previously reported.

In August 2014, a grand jury decided in Rhode Island criminal court that there was no probable cause for the alleged rapes. After this decision was made, Doe filed a complaint with the University in September 2014.

The University attempted to collect evidence for her case, but only received limited evidence from the criminal investigation, the lawsuit claims. In September 2014, Castillo-Appollonio told Doe that the University would conduct an inquiry under the Code of Student Conduct and requested she give the University a statement. Doe provided documents from the investigation by Providence Police and cellphone communications.

On Oct. 26, 2014, Doe further informed the University that her hair samples had tested positive for two over-the-counter drugs commonly used to induce incapacitation and memory loss. The next day, Castillo-Appollonio told Doe that the University planned on issuing “charge letters soon” regarding the allegations.

When a University-hired lawyer, James O’Neil, reached out to Doe for an interview, Doe’s lawyer declined, as they had already provided information to Brown and because O’Neil was “not trained in Title IX.”

In proceeding with its investigation, the University said the Brown Police Department obtained “limited reports by the Providence Police Department, but that the City of Providence … declined to release” the investigatory file according to court documents. In addition, O’Neil was only able to obtain limited reports from the grand jury due to secrecy rules, according to court documents.

Although the University did receive evidence directly from Doe, it said that its inability to obtain sufficient evidence from the police investigation and criminal case “and Ms. Doe’s refusal to cooperate with Brown University’s investigator” rendered the University “unable to move forward with the investigation.” They closed the case.

In her lawsuit against the University, Doe claims that the Code of Student Conduct the University conducted their inquiry under failed to comply with Title IX standards. In his dismissal of her lawsuit, McConnell also wrote that the University code was “not under Title IX standards.”

In an email to The Herald, Director of News and Editorial Development Brian Clark wrote that the University conducted Doe’s inquiry “prior to the implementation of the University’s unified policy on sexual violence and harassment, which happened in 2015 following the creation of the Title IX office.”

Doe did not receive updates about the inquiry until 2016, after she requested an update on April 20 of that year. Three months later, the University said “it never completed any investigation, and that it had abandoned all disciplinary action against the three Brown University football players accused of sexually assaulting Ms. Doe,” according to court documents.

“We will be appealing the ruling on the federal issues in federal court, and filing the remaining state claims in state court,” said Doe’s lawyer Wendy Murphy.

Separately, Doe filed a complaint against the University in October 2014 with the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, alleging that Brown “had unlawfully refused to redress her complaint under Title IX,” according to court documents.

This complaint “is still pending and, depending on the results, Brown could face penalties,” McConnell wrote in his dismissal.

Update, Sept. 22 1:55 p.m.: A previous version of this article included in its final paragraphs that the the University’s Title IX policy has not changed since the case. That information has been moved up higher in the article for additional clarity.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that in September 2014, Castille told Doe that the University would conduct an inquiry under the Code of Student Conduct and requested she give the University a statement. In fact, Castillo-Appollonio told Doe that the University would conduct an inquiry under the Code of Student Conduct and requested she give the University a statement.A previous version of this story also referred to Wellesley as Wellesley University. In fact, it is Wellesley College. The Herald regrets the error.