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June 29, 2020

Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Issues Strong Opinion in Favor of Male Accused Student in Title IX Case


Patricia Hamill and Lorie Dakessian

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a strong opinion allowing a male student’s Title IX claims to proceed against Oberlin College.

The Court started with a salient observation:

Any number of federal constitutional and statutory provisions reflect the proposition that, in this country, we determine guilt or innocence individually—rather than collectively, based on one’s identification with some demographic group. That principle has not always been perfectly realized in our Nation’s history, but as judges it is one that we take an oath to enforce. . . .

Key points in the Court’s decision are as follows:

  • The plaintiff is not required to identify bias unique to their own proceeding; a university’s “patterns of decision-making” can show the requisite relation between outcome and sex.
  • Procedural irregularities permit a “plausible inference of sex discrimination,” and “Doe’s strongest evidence is perhaps the merits of the decision itself.”
  • The Court found the failure of the hearing panel to comment on a flat contradiction in the complainants’ statements in a proceeding in which the credibility of both the accuser and the accused were paramount “remarkable.”
  • The Court criticized the Appeals Officer’s failure to acknowledge the importance of a witness statement contradicting certain elements of the female accuser’s testimony as impeachment evidence.
  • The record provided no apparent basis for a finding that Roe violated the university’s policy. The court held inferences of gender bias were bolstered by allegations about federal pressure: a federal investigation of the university, the fact the educational institution changed its policy after a public complaint by a female student, and that a “100% responsibility rate in cases where most, if not all, the respondents were male supports an inference regarding bias in hearings.

The decision was 2-1. The dissenting judge’s criticisms of the majority opinion — including his insistence that procedures unfair to respondents do not constitute gender bias — underscore the majority’s rejection of arguments made by many universities in these cases.

The points above outline the primary takeaways of Doe v. Oberlin College — further details can be found here.