Since 2021, the University has faced three major lawsuits concerning its Title IX policies and procedures.
The first of these lawsuits, filed in August 2021, is now being heard across seven different cases. The second, filed in March 2022, was dismissed within three months. The most recent case, filed in September 2022, is continuing through court proceedings.
Below are historical timelines and recent developments regarding the three lawsuits.
Soenen et al. v. Brown
On Aug. 6, 2021, four Brown students — Chloe Burns ’19, Taja Hirata-Epstein ’20, Carter Woodruff ’22 and Katiana Soenen — filed a class action lawsuit against the University, The Herald previously reported. The four alleged that Brown both neglected to protect students from sexual harassment and abuse.The lawsuit also claims the plaintiffs were discouraged or prevented by University employees from reporting sexual misconduct and that their filed complaints were neglected and poorly investigated.
In their initial complaint, the plaintiffs sought financial compensation for every female student attending the University from 2018 to 2021.
Three additional plaintiffs — an undergraduate and graduate student both using the pseudonym “Jane Doe” and Emma Dennis-Knieriem ’21 — joined the case in a January 2022 amended complaint, while Woodruff departed from the case that April, The Herald previously reported.
On Oct. 18, the University’s motion to dismiss the case was partially granted — the case could no longer result in monetary relief for all female students, and the court dismissed all of Burns’ claims. But the claims that Brown’s Title IX Office had mishandled the plaintiffs' cases remained on the table, with the potential for an injunction requiring the University to change its harassment policies.
In January, Brown filed a motion to sever — calling for the court to break the joint lawsuit into individual cases. In their response to Brown’s motion, the plaintiffs claimed that the request indicated a “fundamental misunderstanding of plaintiffs’ allegations,” according to court filings. The plaintiffs pointed to court findings that the lawsuit was focused on the Title IX Office’s wider alleged failures, not the details of their individual cases.
On Jan. 27, Brown’s motion to sever was granted by the court — ordering that all five remaining plaintiffs be assigned separate cases, which were all filed in February. The court decision allowed the two unnamed plaintiffs to also remain in a joint lawsuit, for a total of six cases.
Burns filed a new complaint against the University Feb. 28, making Brown a defendant in seven total cases branching from the initial complaint.
Lane v. Brown
On March 2, 2022, a student under the pseudonym Lois Lane filed a lawsuit against the University and a pseudonymous defendant Jane Roe alleging anti-transgender discrimination and failure to follow Title IX procedures, The Herald previously reported.
The lawsuit charged the University with breaching contract, breaching good faith and fair dealing and creating a hostile education environment in violation of Title IX policies. It charged Roe with defamation, inflicting emotional distress and violating the right to privacy.
It also alleged that the University discriminated against Lane based on their transgender identity by assigning them to an all-male dorm, among other actions. The lawsuit also alleged that the University delayed a Title IX investigation and issued a one-way no-contact order against Lane.
The filings followed an informal complaint by Roe against Lane filed with the University in fall 2020 related to a sexual encounter. Lane claimed that the encounter was consensual. The complaint led to a mutual no-contact order, while the Title IX Office acknowledged to Lane that it was aware Lane believed the complaint was “part of ongoing harassment and transphobia by the reporting party,” which Lane reaffirmed in an email the next day, The Herald previously reported.
In September 2021, Roe filed a formal Title IX complaint that alleged Lane sexually assaulted them. On Sept. 23, 2021, the Title IX Office instituted a second no-contact order applying only to Lane.
In January 2022, Lane and Roe agreed to enter the University’s informal resolution process, which allows parties to mutually resolve a formal complaint. Roe’s informal resolution requested that Lane leave any organized student groups, withdraw their enrollment and not enter any University buildings until 2026, in addition to listening to a restorative justice victim impact statement by Roe in person. Lane withdrew from the informal process following Roe’s demands, The Herald previously reported.
The case was dismissed May 24, 2022, upon Lane and Roe’s agreement, and no costs or fees were awarded, according to court documents.
Smith v. Brown
On Sept. 9, 2022, a student-athlete using the pseudonym “David Smith” filed a lawsuit against the University claiming that he was unfairly suspended after an allegedly biased Title IX investigation of a sexual assault claim made against him in October 2021, The Herald previously reported.
Smith was issued a two-year suspension after a University investigation found him responsible for sexual assault. Smith’s appeal of the decision was denied on Sept. 7.
An emergency injunction filed on Sept. 19 allowed Smith to return to classes and athletic activities and stopped the University from moving forward with any further disciplinary actions.
Smith’s lawsuit claims both the University and the third-party investigator hired to oversee his case committed a series of violations, including breach of contract, discrimination, negligence and emotional distress.
Smith is seeking $75,000 in compensatory damages and a permanent injunction preventing any further investigations concerning the original sexual assault complaint, among others.
The case is still moving through court proceedings, and factual discovery is set to be completed by July 25, according to court documents, with expert discovery set to conclude by October 25.
Julia Vaz is a Metro editor covering the environment and crime and justice beats. She is a sophomore from Brazil studying Political Science and Literary Arts.
Neil Mehta is a University News section editor and design chief at The Herald. They study public health and statistics at Brown. Outside the office, you can find Neil baking and playing Tetris.