College files preliminary response to former student’s suit

On Monday, the college submitted its first response to the lawsuit filed against it last month by a former student. The suit claims that the then-student was wrongfully expelled in a knee-jerk reaction to Title IX and Clery Act complaints filed last spring by a group of students against the college. As a part of the suit, the plaintiff filed a motion requesting that the case proceed under the pseudonym John Doe so as to “maintain his privacy and reputational interests” as well as “the privacy interests of his accuser.”

The response filed by the college addresses the request for anonymity but not the full case. A response to the full case is due by March 24.

The response does, however, open by challenging many of the key points raised in John’s suit. In it, the college asserts that John’s “allegations are completely false,” that he “received a fair hearing consistent with Swarthmore’s policies” and that the “hearing took place when it did because that was when Jane Doe [the complainant] requested a disciplinary hearing.”

In John’s request to file his case under a pseudonym, he claimed that from “the outset, [he] denied any and all wrongdoing.” The request references John’s suit against the college, covered in detail in last week’s Phoenix, which alleges that John was “a male in the wrong place at the wrong time” and thus the victim of an impulsive reaction from the college when “under intense scrutiny.” In the request, John asks that both he and Jane, his accuser, proceed anonymously as John has “a reasonable fear” of the “severe stigma” that would result in “further humiliation, tarnish his reputation, and [make him] the target of public denigration.”

The college’s response to John’s request takes many of these claims to trial. The response claims, first, that under the college’s policy at the time, its investigations into allegations of sexual assault were separate from the process of disciplinary hearing, which were initiated “when and whether she [the complainant] wished to pursue a disciplinary hearing against the accused student.” As the complainant independently decided not to pursue a disciplinary hearing until May, the response continues, the claim that “Swarthmore somehow resurrected the case in order to make an example of John Doe is simply untrue.”

The response continues by claiming that the College Judiciary Committee panel had “nothing to do with Swarthmore’s response to the investigations by the Department of Education.” Claiming that the college “followed its policies and procedures in all material respects,” the response argues that “[there] is no basis for re-litigating the [panel’s] findings and credibility determinations in a federal court.”

The college’s response also rejects the claim that John immediately “denied any and all wrongdoing,” citing as evidence an same email sent from Jane’s boyfriend to John (the email appears to be the same as one referenced in John’s suit). Part of this email, the response alleges, reads, “You have even gone so far as to repeatedly pressure a girl who repeatedly said ‘no’ to you, wearing her down until, completely drunk, she submitted to your self-indulgent, chauvinist pursuit of God know’s [sic] what. Taking advantage of drunk girls, even when they acquiesce, is tantamount to rape.” The college’s response claims that John responded to this email with an email that contained “I read your message, and I agree with it. I also called [my girlfriend] last night (around 2:00 AM, my time) letting her know what happened.”

While not challenging the court’s acceptance of John’s request to file anonymously, the college’s response “respectfully reserves the right to ask for reconsideration” if new facts “establish that [John] Doe has not guarded confidentiality of his identity or that he would not suffer ‘severe harm’ in the absence of anonymity as he asserts.”

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