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Irregular Title IX Investigation Leads to Bias Claim by Accused

Head tennis coach Jeffrey Menaker was terminated by Hofstra University after a student claimed that he sexually harassed her. He alleged that he had refused the female student’s request for an increase in her athletic scholarship for the upcoming year, and shortly thereafter she wrote a letter complaining that he sexually harassed her and threatened her scholarship on the team. According to Menaker, the deputy general counsel and athletic director met with him without showing him the letter and questioned him. After he was shown the letter, he denied the accusations. Menaker was told that an investigation would follow and thus he provided the names of his witnesses. Those witnesses were not interviewed. Two months later, Menaker was fired for “unprofessional conduct.” Menaker sued alleging bias under Title VII.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals considered the dismissal of his case on appeal. Hofstra’s formal harassment policy included protections for the due process of employees investigated for misconduct. Menaker claimed these rights were violated when Hofstra failed to speak to his witnesses and did not provide him fair notice of his termination hearing. Menaker asserted that he was fired because he was a male accused of misconduct by a woman.

The key question for the Second Circuit was whether his sex was a motivating factor in his firing. Relying on a Title IX case, Doe v. Columbia Univ, the court noted that procedural shortcuts in a harassment investigation could reflect discrimination if they are motivated by a policy of “favor[ing] the accusing female over the accused male.” It was of note to the Court that Hofstra University had been in the news for failing to take sexual misconduct complaints seriously. The appellate court found that “Menaker has plausibly alleged facts that suggest at least some pressure on Hofstra to react more forcefully to allegations of male sexual misconduct.” There were sufficient facts alleged including that the athletic director knew at least one of the accusations was false, the administration was aware of the student’s frustration with her scholarship and of her attempts to manipulate the school, and Menaker never received a report reflecting an investigation. These facts combined with other assertions reflected procedural irregularity and were enough to suggest sex discrimination was the cause. The school could also be liable for supporting a malicious claim by a student under a theory of negligence.