A male Stanford University student found responsible for sexual assault in 2014 has fired back at the university in a lawsuit that alleges Stanford, motivated by gender bias and a "discriminatory zeal to prosecute sexual assault claims," violated his rights under federal gender-equity law Title IX.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, only identifies the man as "John Doe" and the female Stanford student his lawyers say falsely accused him of sexual assault as "Jane Smith," but the details of the suit mirror a very-public case that sparked a firestorm of publicity and student activism around the topic of sexual violence at Stanford.
This case was made public by former student Leah Francis, who said another Stanford student, her ex-boyfriend, had sexually assaulted her off campus in their hometown of Juneau, Alaska, over winter break on Jan. 1, 2014 the same location and date referenced in Doe's lawsuit, among other details.
Doe's lawsuit alleges that the combination of a flawed disciplinary process and a university under public pressure to protect its "purported prestige and reputation against criticism that Stanford fails to adequately address alleged sexual assaults of women by men" led to violations of his right to a fair process. The suit also maintains that the sexual contact between Doe and Francis was consensual, and that Stanford wrongly concluded that he sexually assaulted her.
"In recent years, Stanford has faced significant criticism for failing to properly investigate allegations by female students claiming to be victims of sexual assault by male students," the lawsuit states. "Stanford's biased and unfair rush to judgment against John Doe was clearly a response to this criticism."
Stanford spokeswoman Lisa Lapin wrote in an email to the Weekly that the university believes the case was handled properly.
"It is disappointing that a student has filed litigation against Stanford," she wrote, "but we believe this matter was handled appropriately and we are prepared to defend the process."
At Stanford, the case was investigated and adjudicated through the university's Alternate Review Process, or ARP, a disciplinary procedure designed for serious allegations of misconduct relating to sexual assault, sexual harassment, relationship violence or stalking. Under the process, which was recently replaced this year, a five-member review panel of faculty or staff and students, was tasked with adjudicating allegations of sexual misconduct.
Students, faculty and administrators alike have said the Alternate Review Process was cumbersome, time-consuming and often painful and unsatisfying for the students involved.
Doe's lawsuit similarly describes the process as flawed, "unduly complicated and vague."
The suit alleges that Stanford failed to inform Doe of his rights under the Alternate Review Process, including a right to have a support person accompany him throughout the investigative and review processes, such as an attorney. A university counselor Doe was referred to (who he perceived as his "advocate") "discouraged" Doe from having an attorney present throughout the process, which "materially affected the outcome of the disciplinary proceeding," the lawsuit states.
Doe never obtained legal representation throughout the university's internal process, his lawyer, James Quadra, told the Weekly Wednesday.
Stanford also prevented Doe from providing certain pieces of evidence relating to Francis' credibility; "heavily" and "improperly" redacted a statement he presented to the review panel, which would later find him responsible for sexual assault; redacted statements from Francis that "disproved the allegations against him;" and allowed for a flawed appeals process that, too, was motivated by gender bias, the lawsuit alleges.
"The school, in light of their previous issues and the fact that they were criticized, went in the opposite direction of fairness and made sure they looked like they were responding to the pressures of this case, in favor of the accuser, despite the evidence that showed it was not true as it related to John Doe," Quadra said.
The lawsuit alleges that the Alternate Review Process itself was developed and implemented "with the intent of prosecuting successful sexual assault disciplinary proceeding against men" and that Stanford "intentionally drafted the ARP in order to increase prosecution of successful disciplinary proceedings against men for sexual assault and trained the students and staff involved in implementing the ARP in a manner that targeted men."
The lawsuit also argues that because the alleged assault occurred in a location far off campus and unrelated to any university activity, the university's review panel "lacked jurisdiction under its policies and procedures" and should have deferred to an investigation conducted by the Juneau district attorney. The district attorney eventually declined to bring charges in the case.
Doe also filed this week a petition challenging the final consequence Stanford imposed on him: a two-year hold on his undergraduate diploma. The five-member review panel had initially implemented as sanctions a five-quarter suspension, community service hours and a sexual-assault education program, but Vice Provost of Student Affairs Greg Boardman rescinded the suspension and community service hours as the result of an appeal filed by Francis.
Francis had filed the appeal seeking more serious sanctions for the male student namely, to expel him. Her case led to well-attended student protests that called on Stanford to reform its policies to make expulsion the default punishment for students found responsible for sexual assault. (Stanford did later make this change at the recommendation of a sexual-assault task force.)
In addition to violating Doe's Title IX rights, the lawsuit filed claims against Stanford for negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Doe is seeking damages that should be determined at a trial by jury, the lawsuit asks.
Doe's lawsuit follows several others across the country filed by male college students accused of sexual assault, giving voice to a concern that an increasing crackdown on sexual assault has led to a process that favors the rights of accusers over the accused.
Stanford is also currently under federal investigation in response to a Title IX complaint Francis filed in December 2014, alleging the university failed to promptly and equitably provide a response to and resolution for her sexual-assault report.
The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights has since opened three additional investigations into Title IX violations at Stanford, according to the federal agency.
The Palo Alto Weekly has created an archive of past news articles, social media reaction and other content related to the ongoing sexual assault issues at Stanford University. To view it, go to storify.com/paloaltoweekly.