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Student’s suit against Dartmouth over sex assault suspension moves on with claim of racial discrimination

Valley News
Published: 7/14/2021 5:03:55 PM

CONCORD, N.H. — A federal judge has allowed part of a suspended Dartmouth College student’s lawsuit against the school to move forward, including the student’s claim that Dartmouth racially discriminated against him during a sexual assault investigation last year because he is Black.

And in his July 8 order, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph DiClerico said the student, who was a member of Dartmouth’s football team, has raised a “plausible claim” that the college investigated and punished several Black players in the past 15 years but did not take similar action against white players.

DiClerico dismissed two out of the six claims originally brought by the student, who is referred to only by the pseudonym John Doe in court documents, in a January lawsuit. The dismissed claims include allegations that Dartmouth officials were negligent in the investigation and that they violated Title IX by discriminating against the student for being a man. (Title IX is the federal civil rights law intended to protect people from sex-based discrimination in education programs and activities.)

DiClerico ruled that the remainder of the lawsuit against Dartmouth can continue, including the claims of racial discrimination and breach of contract.

“Although the Title IX claim was dismissed, our client’s core allegations remain. We intend to pursue discovery regarding these core allegations, including, most importantly, our claims of racial discrimination,” William Christie, the Concord-based attorney for the student, said via email Tuesday.

The student filed the lawsuit over an investigation school officials led into a complaint he sexually assaulted an unnamed female student after a party in February 2020. The female student told officials that she called Doe, a friend of hers, for help getting back to her dorm because she was intoxicated after a party and asserted that he assaulted her in her dorm room, according to his lawsuit. He claimed that the woman agreed to sexual intercourse after they returned to the room, according to court documents. She later went to the Hanover Police Department but ultimately decided not to pursue an investigation against Doe, the lawsuit said.

Dartmouth College officials investigated the woman’s claim, found evidence of wrongdoing in a final report and suspended Doe from campus for two years.

But in his lawsuit, Doe argued that the school treated him unfairly and discriminated against him during the investigation, the final report and in the college’s decision to suspend him. The school replied in April, arguing in part that his claims are based on speculation about implicit bias among college officials who oversaw the investigation, rather than factual evidence, and that they should be dismissed.

However, the judge sided with Doe that arguments claiming racial bias be allowed.

“Intentional racial discrimination can be inferred from disparate or differential treatment of races,” DiClerico wrote. “Doe has alleged minimally sufficient facts to raise plausible claims of unlawful intentional racial discrimination.”

DiClerico pointed to one of the student’s arguments specifically: Doe claimed that Dartmouth’s Title IX officials have not referred any complaints against white football players for further investigation in the last 15 years, but they have referred nine complaints made against Black football players in that time. The reports against Black football players resulted in the expulsion or suspension of those players, Doe argued.

DiClerico wrote it’s reasonable to infer that some claims were made against white football players in that time, but not referred for a larger investigation.

“At this stage, Doe has alleged sufficient facts to raise a plausible claim of intentional racial discrimination,” DiClerico wrote.

The judge also agreed to allow the breach of contract claim to move forward, writing that Dartmouth did not offer any explanation in its April response about why the claim should be dismissed.

But DiClerico wrote in the order that Doe’s complaint “lacks sufficient” evidence to show that his gender was one of the reasons the school suspended him. He also rejected Doe’s claim that the recent pressure Dartmouth has faced to “crack down” on sexual assaults leads college officials to favor the accounts of women who report sexual misconduct.

“Dartmouth’s various activities aimed at raising awareness about sexual violence against women on college campuses do not lead to a plausible inference of gender bias against men,” DiClerico wrote.

He also sided with the school in dismissing the negligence claim, writing that Doe did not cite any applicable case law to support his argument that Dartmouth was negligent during its investigation or disciplinary decision.

Messages to Daron Janis, an attorney representing Dartmouth, were not returned Tuesday.

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.

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