Stanford student accused of sexual assault fires back at university in federal lawsuit

Former student files lawsuit alleging Title IX violations

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


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10 people like this
Posted by almunday60
a resident of another community
on Apr 27, 2016 at 10:49 am

what is it with colleges that DO NOT prosecute rapists??? Only reason why the guy was charged was because of all the publicity that made light of his crime against person. should not the basic laws also apply to a college in that town?????

58 people like this
Posted by Chip
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 27, 2016 at 11:45 am

This is an observation, not an excuse for any crime. The alleged action occurred in another state. The complaint by Jane Smith was filed & investigated there, the appropriate jurisdiction. Stanford has no business penalizing the person who wasn't tried or convicted in the venue where whatever happened is said to have happened.

The District Attorney there declined to prosecute. DA's generally decline to prosecute where there is insufficient evidence to prove that a crime took place. Absent proof or strong enough evidence to bring to trial, much less convict, why should the University punish a student based on an unproven allegation?

Unless proven, it's rumor & accusation despite Ms. Smith's fervent wish to have her former boyfriend removed from campus to eliminate any possible meeting or sighting and be "punished." Present evidence of criminal conviction before expecting the university to expel John Doe for what she claims but cannot prove he did.

7 people like this
Posted by Green Bean
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 27, 2016 at 11:55 am

[Post removed.]

17 people like this
Posted by Edna
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 27, 2016 at 12:15 pm

Why are colleges the judges, juries, prosecutors, investigators on behalf of the accuser rolled into one and able to destroy lives?

Isn't the accuser assumed to be a victim and truthful from the start and the accused removed from campus immediately no questions asked and before he has had a chance to defend himself? In other words the male is presumed guilty.

Are the police going to now start teaching college courses? Of course not, then why do colleges think they are capable of administering justice?

8 people like this
Posted by Moneymaker
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Apr 27, 2016 at 12:18 pm

Oh, to be a lawyer on that case ... endless billable hours ... I could buy a mansion out of it ...

9 people like this
Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 27, 2016 at 12:26 pm

This is disgusting. A [portion removed] feels entitled to sue a university when he's quite correctly thrown out on his ear. I guess he thinks he can get back on the road to prosperity (mostly the result of a Stanford degree) despite have demonstrated despicable behavior.

12 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 27, 2016 at 12:26 pm

@Green "...Must a man ask for permission for every touch..."

Actually they do. And not just the male. With the passing of the "Yes means Yes" law both parties need "affirmative consent"

If the other party lets you kiss them, that is NOT permission to grope them. You need affirmative consent for each action you take. And "...consent can't be given if someone is asleep or incapacitated by drugs or alcohol..." So if the other party is not completely sober and you do something that they other party regreets later don't be surprised if you wind up in court.


14 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 27, 2016 at 12:35 pm

@Edna "Why are colleges the judges, juries, prosecutors, investigators..."

Because for the last 40 years the public has sought to put the burden on the colleges for every little problem that happens with students. Take a look at all the laws and federal regulations that have been passed that hold the school responsible. Don't blame the school for the corner the public has backed them into.

If a student gets drunk, the school it to blame. If the student is depressed, the school is to blame. If the student commits a crime, the school is to blame. If the student doesn't get a wonderful high paying job, the school is to blame.

If a school doesn't do something the public holds them responsible. If the school does to something the public holds them responsible.


2 people like this
Posted by Another perspectvr
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 27, 2016 at 12:55 pm

[Post removed.]

21 people like this
Posted by Hopenchange
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 27, 2016 at 1:14 pm

This alleged act took place in another state. What does this have to do with Stanford?

Folks, we're seeing the effects of a fully weaponized Title IX. Stanford acted against this young man because it feared the consequences of another "Dear Colleague" from the OCR.

The best thing would be for the US Department of Education to abolish its Office of Civil Rights, that is, the agency that has been advocating that universities adopt on-campus Rape Tribunals.

3 people like this
Posted by disgusted
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 27, 2016 at 1:15 pm

[Post removed.]

33 people like this
Posted by wrong jurisdiction
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 27, 2016 at 1:16 pm

The female student may report an alleged rape if she chooses (and some choose not to report), fine. Report it in the correct jurisdiction (Alaska). Trying to bring Stanford into it, when the alleged act occurred out of state, is unworkable.
Yet this is the current method being used to attempt to get back at rapists/alleged rapists. The federal government is requiring universities to wade into alleged crimes and personal relationships - and it may result in inaccurate and unjust findings and penalties. I can't tell for certain, since I was not a witness to this alleged crime in Alaska. But do we convict based solely on a female's assertions? I feel terrible for anyone subjected to rape/sexual assault, but we need to improve the method of investigating and prosecuting these alleged crimes.
Prevention of rape and intervention of apparent rape is better than trying a kangaroo court of he said/she said afterwards UNLESS there are credible witness(es) and evidence. But often it's just he said/she said.
Pent up anger (justified) at the men who get away with rapes over eons is now resting in a semi-misguided use of university "judicial" systems to attempt to remedy the crime.
I think prevention and intervention need to be ramped up.

13 people like this
Posted by There's no other perspective
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 27, 2016 at 1:21 pm

@another perspectivr, no a woman does not need to take responsibility for someone assaulting her. It doesn't matter what she is wearing or how she is dancing, there is no situation in which it is her fault. A man is never allowed to sexually engage with her without her consent. End of story. Here's a little video to help clear it up: Web Link

27 people like this
Posted by Thinking Straight
a resident of Stanford
on Apr 27, 2016 at 1:22 pm

The alleged crime took place in Alaska during winter break. [Portion removed.]
Why should Stanford expel him if the crime did not take place on campus, and if the Juneau authorities declined to act on it? Just because he is a Stanford student? Just because Leah is? They were away from Stanford for the holidays!

Even if the accused IS guilty, that is not a Stanford issue--it did not happen on campus! If the Juneau DA won't prosecute, why doesn't Leah file a civil lawsuit in Alaska instead?

The point is, this is one time Stanford does not have to get involved!

12 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 27, 2016 at 2:24 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Absent the experience, it is hard to imagine what it would feel like to be either sexually assaulted or wrongly accused of sexual assault. Either would be devastating and wholly disruptive to one's sense of self and equilibrium. I can imagine wanting accountability but in this particular case I don't "get" why the university is involved at all. If the answer is that both of the young people were students there, just how broad is a university's responsibility? Surely schools cannot be responsible for all the actions of all students in all places at all times. If that is the expectation, should we anticipate that schools will start doing background checks on prospective students and factoring that in to the admission process? [hope not] One thing that I think could be done without placing blame is to offer comprehensive counseling to the accuser and the accused. The more education and understanding, the better. More education about alcohol would also help since it seems it is a dangerous common denominator in many of these sad situations.

20 people like this
Posted by Hobbler
a resident of another community
on Apr 27, 2016 at 4:44 pm

Hobbler is a registered user.

When did colleges get in the business of "prosecuting" anything?
The incident took place in another state. What if it took place YEARS earlier; while these kids were in high school?
The lawsuit claims that the kafka court and the expulsion were the result of the Univ. adjudicating to meet a quota. I'm inclined to agree. Even if rape is running at 99% on campus, that is not a justification to deny due process and conduct trial by statistics.

31 people like this
Posted by Amanda
a resident of Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on Apr 27, 2016 at 11:19 pm

Amanda is a registered user.

This is why colleges should not be adjudicating sexual assault. As long as millions of Federal funding dollars are tied to accusations there will never be an impartial and fair hearing. Her accusation looks like an ex-girlfriend who is jealous of her ex-boyfriend who moved on with his life. As for the way Stanford treated John Doe his adviser worked against him, and he was kept in the dark all along. I wish John Doe the best in finding truth and justice through a court of law, something that Stanford woefully lacks.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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