The University of Chicago moved Monday to dismiss a lawsuit that accused the University of demonstrating anti-male bias in its handling of sexual assault allegations.
The lawsuit was filed in August by a male student called “John Doe” in court documents. Doe had been investigated twice by the University after two students filed complaints saying he had sexually assaulted them. The University’s first investigation of Doe ended in 2014, after a University disciplinary hearing found that a “preponderance of the evidence” did not support the accusation. The second complaint has been withdrawn since the lawsuit was filed.
Doe’s original complaint called for at least $175,000 in damages. An amended version of the complaint, filed February 8, called for at least $1.35 million: $350,000 in damages, and $1 million to “deter UC from conducting similar future conduct.”
Doe alleges that the University created a hostile environment, retaliated against him for past (dismissed) accusations, practiced selective enforcement of regulations, failed to follow its own promises related to disciplinary procedures, and caused him emotional distress. The suit specifically suggests that the University failed to protect John Doe from public accusations by the students who filed complaints against him, which the complaint characterizes as harassment.
The University’s March 6 filing moved to dismiss these claims on a variety of legal grounds, according to court documents. A memorandum filed by the University in support of its motion repeatedly cited a lawsuit filed by a male student against Columbia University after a female student who had accused him of rape publicized her case by carrying a mattress around Columbia’s campus. That case was dismissed by a judge last year, though a new version of the complaint was subsequently filed.
The memorandum suggests that, as in that lawsuit, John Doe has failed to present a convincing case that he was discriminated against based on sex—that, for instance, a female student in his situation would have been treated differently—which is a necessary component for a lawsuit under Title IX. The memorandum also argues that the public accusations against John Doe happened in contexts outside the University’s direct control.
Another part of Doe’s case suggested that the University failed to fulfill promises in its Student Manual, including a provision that investigations would be conducted fairly and impartially. The University’s motion argues that these promises were not “unambiguous,” as is required to justify damages under Illinois law. The motion says that John Doe’s claims of emotional distress also do not meet legal requirements for successful litigation.
Some male students have successfully challenged university sexual assault proceedings in court in recent years, though complaints that accused universities of demonstrating anti-male bias under Title IX have proved less successful.
This is the latest in a recent string of developments surrounding the case. On March 2, Judge Edmond Chang unsealed the September 2016 opinion that denied John Doe an injunction against further University proceedings, allowing the University’s investigation of Doe to continue. In denying the motion for an injunction, Judge Chang ruled that Doe’s original complaint “failed to show…a likelihood of success on the merits.”
In addition to his allegations against the University, John Doe’s lawsuit accused a female student, called “Jane Doe” in court documents, of defamation. Jane Doe had identified John Doe on social media as having assaulted her and other students and filed a complaint against John Doe with the University months later. A settlement between Jane Doe and John Doe was approved by Chang in the case last Friday. In an exhibit attached to the settlement agreement, Jane Doe wrote that John Doe’s sexual “conduct” with her and others had not, to her knowledge, violated University policies or Illinois state law.
When asked for comment, University spokesman Jeremy Manier referred The Maroon to the court documents that had already been filed. “The University typically does not comment on pending litigation,” Manier wrote in an e-mail to The Maroon. At the time of publication, John Doe’s legal counsel had not responded to request for comment.