Federal Title IX investigation ends after lawsuit

Alex Weidenhof, Copy/Enterprise Editor

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A Department of Education investigation into Allegheny College’s handling of Title IX cases, which was opened June 3, 2015, has been closed upon request of the student who filed it. One investigation remains open.

The Department’s Office for Civil Rights sent a letter dated Aug. 29, 2017, to Allegheny College President James Mullen informing the college the case had been administratively closed. The complainant withdrew his complaint on June 28, 2017, according to documents obtained by The Campus via a Freedom of Information Act request.

The complainant alleged the college discriminated against him on the basis of his sex during its handling of an allegation of sexual assault made against him during his freshman year in 2014. He was ultimately expelled from Allegheny.

He alleged that the college withheld his accuser’s statement from him until days before the appeal hearing, did not allow key witnesses to be interviewed, prohibited him from taking “detailed” notes on case documents and did not let his attorney accompany him to review those documents.

“The College was motivated to treat [the complainant] in this manner in order to battle public relations problems and curry favor with the OCR because it was recently named as one of 94 institutions with open sex violence investigations,” he stated in his complaint to the Department.

On Feb. 3, 2017, the complainant, identified as John Doe, filed a lawsuit against the college on the same matter. A mediation session between Doe and the college was held on May 16, 2017, court records show. After the parties resolved the lawsuit, they requested it be dismissed on July 7. It was dismissed by the judge on July 21.

Results of the mediation, which was held in front of a federal magistrate, are not public record.

In both the complaint and the lawsuit, Doe alleged that Allegheny acted unfairly towards him during the Title IX proceedings.

“At every phase of this process, the College ensured that [Doe] would be treated adversarially, receive less information, be hurried and prevented him from preparing a response, and then blamed him for a failure to respond completely to the College’s incomplete information,” the complaint reads in part.

“Finally, at the appeal hearing, the Title IX Coordinator repeatedly put her thumb on the proverbial scale by prohibiting key evidence and even recasting the allegation when the complainant’s story failed to make sense.”

The Title IX coordinator at the time of the incident was Katie Pope. Pope left the college on Aug. 21, 2015. She now holds the same position at the University of Pittsburgh.

Doe, whose identity was confirmed by several Allegheny students, did not reply to a request for comment.

In its response to Doe’s complaint to the OCR, on Aug. 21, 2015, Allegheny stated that Doe had not “made any allegations to the College” about sex discrimination.

The college also argued that it had followed its processes as outlined in the student handbook, and as such Doe’s “allegation that Allegheny violated his rights under Title IX is wholly without merit.”

After a determination by Joe Hall, then the college’s director of student conduct and development, that Doe had more likely than not committed sexual assault, Doe appealed to the Campus Life and Community Standards Committee. The committee unanimously ruled against Doe’s appeal.

Doe then appealed to Mullen on the basis of both new facts that had not made it into the appeals hearing and violations of college process. Mullen upheld Hall’s determination and Doe’s expulsion.

“I found no violations of process that significantly and/or materially affected your ability to present complete information to the Committee nor did I find any significant and/or material violations of process in connection with the investigation of this matter,” Mullen wrote in an April 17, 2015, letter to Doe.

In the 2017 lawsuit, Doe requested the college permit him to immediately re-enroll and expunge this Title IX violation from his academic and disciplinary records, and that the court award him with more than $75,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.

Doe’s name does not appear in the college’s email or campus mailbox directories.

Eileen Petula, chief operating officer and executive vice president of the college, said Allegheny does not comment on legal issues.

Although Doe’s complaint with the OCR has been closed, an investigation into the college’s handling of Title IX which was opened in December 2014 remains open.

The complaint which triggered the 2014 investigation alleges that Allegheny College has a culture “that tolerates violence against women” and that the college’s Title IX procedures “seem to be in place for the primary purpose of protecting the interest of the college and not the victims,” according to a copy of the complaint obtained by The Campus.

Allegheny was informed of this investigation on Dec. 5, 2014. The proceedings against Doe began Dec. 17, 2014.

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