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Colleges Between Rock and Hard Place with Title IX Investigations

A Columbia University student was accused of sexually assaulting a fellow student. He is now suing the school, claiming that the investigation was biased against him. Doe v. Columbia University.

Doe was found responsible for the sexual assault under Columbia's Title IX and Violence Against Women's Act policies. Title IX prohibits colleges and universities that receive federal funding from discriminating on the basis of sex. Doe was suspended as a result of the investigation. He has claimed that the Title IX investigator was motivated by a pro-female gender bias. This bias was purportedly demonstrated through deficiencies in the way the investigation was handled and in the hearing process. According to Doe, the bias was a reaction to the severe criticism leveled at Columbia University by the press and student body for the way it had previously responded to women's complaints.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that any policy favoring one gender over another, even if the motive was to prevent sexual offense or violence, would still be unlawful gender discrimination. No decision was made as to the merit of Doe's factual allegations. The case will go back to the federal trial court for further proceedings including trial. For universities, the impact will be a more narrow and careful Title IX investigation, mindful not to tilt the investigation toward either the accuser or the accused.