California Court's Ruling Expands Title IX Due Process Rights For University And College Students; What Universities and Colleges Must Do To Comply
This post marks the first of a multi-part series that will discuss the anticipated impact of a recent California Court of Appeal decision (John Doe v. University of Southern California (B262917)) on universities, colleges, and students. We will also discuss the changes that universities and colleges will likely need to make this summer in order to comply with the Court’s interpretation of the law.
The Court's decision in Doe v. USC should have a significant impact on the way universities and colleges conduct student discipline processes. In Doe v. USC, John Doe, a USC football player, was originally found guilty of sexual assault by USC’s office of Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards for his role in a group sexual encounter at a fraternity party. He appealed through the university’s administrative appeals process.
USC’s Student Behavior Appeals Panel found there was insufficient evidence to support any sexual assault claim. However, the Appeals Panel found there was sufficient evidence to support the university’s claim that Doe “encouraged or permitted” other students to slap Jane Doe on the buttocks during the sexual activity, which the parties agree was not consensual, and he endangered Jane Doe by leaving her alone in the bedroom when the involved parties dispersed after realizing that Jane Doe was crying.
John Doe filed an appeal in the superior court (i.e. he petitioned for a writ of mandate), arguing that he was not afforded a fair hearing and that there was insufficient evidence to support USC Appeals Panel’s findings that he violated the Student Conduct Code. A California trial court rejected John Doe’s fair hearing challenge. It also held that there was substantial evidence in support of the Appeals Panel’s finding that the university student’s conviction for encouraging or permitting other students to slap Jane Doe on the buttocks during the sexual activity, but there was insufficient evidence to support the finding that Doe endangered Jane Doe by leaving her alone in the bedroom after the group sexual encounter. John Doe appealed.
The California Court of Appeal agreed with John Doe. The Court found that John Doe was denied a “fair hearing” by USC. In particular, the Court found that USC failed to provide John Doe fair notice of the allegations that resulted in suspension, or an adequate hearing on those allegations. The Court went even further and, after examining all of the evidence against John Doe, found that there was insufficient evidence to support both of John Doe’s convictions by the Appeals Panel.
The Court rested its finding that John Doe was denied a “fair hearing” by USC on a number of grounds. The same is true of the Court’s findings on the sufficiency of the evidence. Importantly, the Court's interpretation of the law and related reasoning are now effectively the law of the State of California. They should be considered legal mandates by universities and colleges, which must be complied with in order to avoid similar challenges by students in the future. Stay tuned as we discuss in further detail the Court’s interpretation of the law and its effect on universities and colleges.
Mark W. Regus, II is a California business services and litigation attorney with extensive experience in the niche legal practice of university discipline - student conduct codes, academic dishonesty, plagiarism, Title IX, and disciplinary due process..