Settlement Reached Over Penn State's Handling of Sexual Misconduct Cases

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Penn State has settled a civil lawsuit over the University’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations involving students, according to a settlement notice filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The out-of-court agreement resolves one of three lawsuits filed against the University over claims it poorly handles allegations, investigations, and administrative disciplinary proceedings for Title IX offenses.

The Underlying Title IX Case

The settlement stems from a federal lawsuit filed by one plaintiff, identified as John Doe, who claimed he was suspended and expelled from a pre-med program affiliated with Kimmel Medical College due to Penn State administrators’ poor handling of the Title IX disciplinary process.

According to court records, Doe allegedly engaged in nonconsensual sex with a female student in her dormitory in the Fall of 2016. Doe said he arrived at his classmate’s room after receiving a text message suggesting they study together, and further claimed she attempted to seduce him. She reported Doe tried to kiss her, and subsequently groped her without consent by putting his hand under her clothes.

The allegation ultimately resulted in a determination that Doe had violated Penn State’s Student Code of Conduct, as well as sanctions and suspension.

The Suit Against Penn State

After the disciplinary proceedings, Doe filed suit against the school, claiming Penn State’s investigation and disciplinary process unfairly favors women, and that it violated his Fifth Amendment right to due process. School officials denied any form of gender bias in its handling of sexual misconduct allegations, and declared publicly that the investigation had been “fundamentally fair.”

As was the case with Doe, Penn State’s process for handling sexual misconduct claims involves:

  • An investigator who prepares a report and gathers evidence related to sexual misconduct allegations among students, as well as faculty and others subject to Title IX;
  • A case manager who determines whether the Student Code of Conduct was violated based on the final report; and
  • A Title IX hearing panel, held when respondents contest “charges,” to decide cases and impose sanctions.

Though the Title IX panel in this case banned Doe from campus housing, the pre-med program, and the Fall semester, a preliminary injunction prevented Penn State from enforcing the sanctions. The school later abandoned plans to retry the matter. Two additional lawsuits raising similar challenges to the schools’ disciplinary process are currently pending in federal court.

Title IX Cases in Ohio

Title IX cases have always been complex, but the ever-changing social and legal landscape surrounding them often make these matters even more turbulent, as does added scrutiny from the Department of Education. Today, schools face tremendous pressure to resolve allegations, even if they are not always equipped with the tools, resources, or tailored policies needed to effectively address the details of every case – while balancing the rights of both parties involved.

Though Title IX cases are not criminal proceedings, they do function in similar ways – providing parties with rights during the investigation, disciplinary, and hearing process, and exposing respondents to serious potential penalties that can have long-term consequences. Likewise, they demand experienced representation.

At The Koffel Law Firm, our award-winning Columbus Attorneys represent clients in Title IX proceedings, and are available to discuss your case and rights personally during a confidential consultation.

Call (614) 675-4845 or contact us online to speak with a lawyer.