Graduate Student Expelled on Sexual Misconduct Sues Syracuse University for Biased Title IX Investigation

Allen Law LLC has sued Syracuse University on behalf of a graduate student following his expulsion for alleged sexual misconduct. The plaintiff, referred to anonymously as John Doe, claims the Title IX investigation was biased and that the sanctions imposed were unfair.

Filed on Monday, Feb. 12, this is the fourth lawsuit alleging that SU conducted biased, overzealous prosecutions during the 2016-2017 academic year and unfairly expelled students for sexual misconduct they did not commit. 

John Doe claims SU wrongfully expelled him for sexual assault over a consensual relationship involving three encounters with another graduate student during October and November 2016. 

In their last encounter, John Doe’s accuser—referred to in court documents only as RP—met him at his apartment. They engaged in various sexual acts, but RP claimed she did not consent to any of them and was sexually assaulted. She later admitted that some of the acts were consensual but maintained that others were not. The lawsuit states that RP reversed other aspects of her story and claimed that she had not wanted to go to John Doe’s apartment that day, even though she drove her own car to the address to meet him.

After RP first reported an alleged sexual assault, SU did not find anything that required action and did nothing for several months. The Syracuse Police also closed its case without further investigation after interviewing both students. 

SU changed its approach, however, the day after attorneys from the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Education came to campus on Jan. 24, 2017. At the time, the OCR was investigating a former student’s complaint that the university neglected sexual misconduct allegations.

The OCR attorneys held open forums on campus about a supposed “rape culture” at Syracuse and the need to increase prosecution and sanctions for sexual assault. The suit claims that SU sought to make an example of John Doe. It launched an investigation against him the very next day.

The suit also claims that SU’s investigation was biased because it used a so-called “trauma-informed” approach. This approach encourages investigators to believe the victim’s account despite numerous contradictions and inconsistencies. These are supposedly explained by the effects of trauma on the neurological processes of the brain. Trauma-informed approaches have been widely criticized because they are not backed up by scientific evidence.

John Doe maintains that there is no evidence of sexual assault or that RP experienced trauma. She even told the Syracuse Police Department that she was not afraid of him. He also says SU applied its trauma-informed techniques inconsistently and exclusively to his disadvantage.  Investigators were only interested in RP’s alleged trauma and disregarded any effects of trauma on him.

John Doe claims he experienced turmoil due to his relationship with RP. She agreed with his account, telling investigators about his anguish and emotional state. Yet SU did not consider this “trauma” when assessing John Doe’s credibility.  Instead, it selectively considered only the “trauma” of the alleged female victim. SU investigators gave more weight to her account while presuming John Doe to be guilty.

Other claims in the lawsuit include:

  • That SU never notified John Doe that there was a complaint against him.
  • That SU issued an order prohibiting John Doe from contacting RP, but then kept it secret; keeping John Doe in the dark about consequences if he continued to contact RP.
  • That SU never asked RP about the contradictions in her story or questioned the existence of her trauma.
  • That SU prevented John Doe from asking RP questions and would not let him hear what she said to SU’s hearing panel.
  • That SU needlessly dragged out the investigation and hearing process far longer than the rules require.
  • That SU’s delay unfairly pushed John Doe’s expulsion into the last days of finals week in 2017, when he was just one class short of fulfilling the requirements for graduation.
  • That SU blocked John Doe from earning his degree and caused him to forfeit all of his tuition.

Through these actions, John Doe says, SU violated its own rules established to safeguard fundamental fairness in the enforcement of Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education.