Title IX Cases Against Columbia and Vassar Are Dismissed

By | April 30, 2015

Two separate federal judges in Manhattan have shown that it’s difficult to prove that a college’s procedures for handling sexual assault allegations violate Title IX.

In the past month, both Columbia University and Vassar College have won cases challenging their handling of sexual assault charges filed against two of their male students.

The cases both stem from questions of whether sex between students was consensual. Consent, however, wasn’t the issue before the courts; instead, each court limited its ruling into whether the outcome had violated Title IX.

“There has been much debate in recent times about the most effective method for addressing the formidable problem of sexual assault on college campuses,” Judge Ronnie Abrams wrote in the Vassar opinion. But the court’s “role, of course, is neither to advocate for best practices or policies nor to retry disciplinary proceedings.”

Both Abrams and U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in the Columbia case found that neither plaintiff could show that their college’s procedures and punishments violated Title IX because neither student had shown he’d been discriminated against because of his sex.

Abrams dismissed the case against Vassar on a motion for summary judgment while Furman threw out the Columbia case on a motion to dismiss.

James Ryan, a partner at Cullen and Dykman LLP who specializes in Title IX, said that the results weren’t surprising.

“The cases were thrown out not because you can’t bring a claim under Title IX, but because the plaintiffs didn’t allege why there was gender discrimination.”

Ned Bassen of Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP, who represented Vassar, declined to comment on the suit in an e-mail. Alan Schoenfeld of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr LLP, who represented Columbia, didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment. Andrew Todd Miltenberg of Nesenoff & Miltenberg LLP, who represented the plaintiffs in both cases, was traveling and didn’t respond to an e-mail.

Ryan, who wasn’t involved in either case, said lawsuits based on a contract theory may be easier for male students to win. Those cases, he said, allege that the school’s procedures violate the student handbook that all receive.

Still, litigation in the Title IX area shows no sign of abating as the debate over assaults and student rights continues to grow. As Ryan explained, “In the last 18 months, I’ve had more of these cases than I’ve had in my career.”

The Columbia case is Doe v. Columbia University, 14- cv-3573,U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan) and the Vassar case is Yu v. Vassar College, 13- cv-4373, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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