A Purdue University student (“John Doe”) was found to have committed a sexual assault by the school’s Disciplinary Board, was suspended for a year, and forced to resign from ROTC and lose his scholarship. Nesenoff & Miltenberg attorneys led by Andrew Miltenberg convinced the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit that John Doe was denied due process in the course of the hearing and that the hearing officers were biased in violation of Title IX. The Court reversed the lower court’s decision and remanded the case back to the district court.
John Doe enrolled in Purdue, a public university, and began dating a fellow Navy ROTC student (“Jane Doe”) in the fall of 2015. They had numerous consensual sexual encounters that fall.
However, Jane began to experience psychological problems and attempted suicide in front of John in December. When John reported this to two Resident Advisors, Jane became angry. She reported to the university that John had sexually assaulted her in a mid-November incident.
John learned about Jane’s accusations in a letter from Purdue’s Dean of Students who was also a Title IX coordinator. The Dean informed John that the university had elected to pursue Jane’s allegations even though Jane had not filed a formal complaint. She explained the school’s disciplinary procedures and informed him that two employees who reported to her would conduct the investigation. Once the letter was issued, John was forced to resign from the Navy ROTC.
John denied the allegations and offered as evidence friendly texts and emails sent by Jane in December. He also named 30 character witnesses along with his roommate who was prepared to testify that John was in his room when the alleged incident occurred.
When the investigator’s report was complete, the Dean sent it to a three-person advisory committee which was tasked with making a recommendation to her after reviewing the report and hearing from the parties. She called John to appear before the panel, but consistent with Purdue’s then-applicable procedures, she neither gave him a copy of the report nor shared its contents with him.
The Conduct of John’s Hearing at Purdue
John later learned that the report erroneously stated he confessed to the allegations and it made no mention of Jane’s suicide attempt.
John and his on-campus supporter met with the advisory committee and the Dean, who chaired the meeting, for about thirty minutes. Jane neither appeared before the panel nor submitted a written statement. Instead, the director of a women’s rights group wrote a letter summarizing Jane’s accusations.
The meeting did not go well for John. Two members of the panel candidly stated that they had not read the investigative report. The one who apparently had read it asked John accusatory questions that assumed his guilt. Because John had not seen the evidence, he could not address it. He reiterated his innocence and told the panel about some of the friendly texts that Jane had sent him after the alleged assault. The panel refused John permission to present witnesses including his roommate to testify that Jane’s rendition of events was false.
A week later, the Dean sent John a letter indicating she had found him guilty of sexual assault by “a preponderance of the evidence,” a standard of 50.01% likelihood. She suspended him for a year and imposed other sanctions as well.
John appealed the ruling to Purdue’s Vice President for Ethics and Compliance. In defending her finding, the Dean stated “I find by a preponderance of the evidence that [John Doe] is not a credible witness. I find by a preponderance of the evidence that [Jane Doe] is a credible witness.” This was despite never having spoken to her. The Dean’s decision and sanctions were promptly ratified.
The 7th Circuit’s Findings
On appeal, the 7th Circuit judges ruled that the failure of the panel to give John a copy of the report or other evidence as well as failing to interview Jane Doe or give John the right to ask questions of her or present his witnesses violated procedural due process. The Court stated “the Advisory Committee was blatantly biased against him; and the Advisory Committee refused to allow him to present any evidence, including witnesses.” This deprived him of his freedom to pursue naval service, his occupation of choice.
Quoting the U.S. Supreme Court, the 7th Circuit stated, “Purdue’s process fell short of what even a high school must provide to a student facing a days-long suspension. “[D]ue process requires, in connection with a suspension of 10 days or less, that the student be given oral or written notice of the charges against him and, if he denies them, an explanation of the evidence the authorities have and an opportunity to present his side of the story.”
John was never given the investigation report or other evidence used to convict him. This alone was sufficient to make the process fundamentally unfair.
Title IX Rulings
With respect to Title IX, the Court pointed specifically to the fact that the Dean and hearing panel never spoke to the complainant or considered John’s evidence:
And in a case that boiled down to a “he said/she said,” it is particularly concerning that [the Dean] and the committee concluded that Jane was the more credible witness—in fact, that she was credible at all—without ever speaking to her in person. Indeed, they did not even receive a statement written by Jane herself, much less a sworn statement. It is unclear, to say the least, how [the Dean] and the committee could have evaluated Jane’s credibility. [The Dean] and the Advisory Committee’s failure to make any attempt to examine Jane’s credibility is all the more troubling because John identified specific impeachment evidence. . . .
[T]he majority of the panel members appeared to credit Jane based on her accusation alone, given that they took no other evidence into account. They made up their minds without reading the investigative report and before even talking to John. They refused to hear from John’s witnesses, including his male roommate who maintained that he was in the room at the time of the alleged assault and that Jane’s rendition of events was false. And the panel members’ hostility toward John from the start of the brief meeting despite their lack of familiarity with the details of the case—including Jane’s depression, suicide attempt, and anger at John for reporting the attempt—further supports the conclusion that Jane’s allegation was all they needed to hear to make their decision.
Collectively, these factors, and others, were enough for the Court to find that John had raised a plausible inference that he was denied an educational benefit on the basis of his sex.
Renowned Attorney Andrew Miltenberg represented John Doe and has successfully represented several hundred clients accused of alleged sexual misconduct on campus. To avoid a situation like Doe’s, it is important that you involve a Title IX defense attorney as early as possible, preferably when the allegations are first made. That way, a specialized attorney can surgically guide you through the disciplinary proceedings, initiate actionable steps to negate an appeal if you are successful, or position the record for a Title IX case against the college if you are not.
We highly encourage you to reach out to ensure you do not wait until you lose the opportunity for employment or a graduate school admission due to a permanently tarnished transcript. Call us today at 212-736-4500 or contact us if you or your child are facing the prospect of sexual misconduct allegations imposed by a college or university. We are here to immediately help you and there is absolutely no fee for a private consultation.