Expelled student sues College for reinstatement

by Zachary Benjamin | 1/18/18 12:00am

A former Dartmouth student has filed a lawsuit against the College, alleging that he was unfairly expelled last year after what he claims was a biased disciplinary proceeding that violated his Title IX rights. The suit was filed on Jan. 12 in the U.S. District Court of New Hampshire.

According to a copy of the filing obtained by The Dartmouth, the student, referred to as John Doe, claims that he was subjected to an unfair disciplinary process after a female Dartmouth student, referred to as Sally Smith, filed a complaint against him in October 2016 with the College’s Title IX Office alleging physical assault. Smith’s complaint was related to a sexual encounter that occurred on campus in August 2016 that left both parties physically injured.

When filing the complaint, Smith allegedly told then-Title IX coordinator Heather Lindkvist that the sexual encounter was consensual. The College hired an external investigator to determine whether Doe violated the College’s Standards of Conduct, specifically Standard I, “behavior which causes or threatens physical harm to another person ... ‘consensual’ or not,” and Standard III, “engaging in sexual misconduct of any kind.” In November 2016, Doe, alleging that he was unable to consent during the encounter because he was incapacitated by alcohol, filed a complaint against Smith for physical and sexual assault.

Doe was found responsible in March 2017 for violating Standard I, related to physical harm, and not responsible for violating Standard III, related to sexual misconduct. Smith was not found responsible for any violations.

Both students had submitted a request in February 2017 to terminate the investigation, but their request was rejected, though the College said that they could inform the investigator about the settlement, as well as the sanctioning panel should either student be found responsible. Doe subsequently informed interim director of judicial affairs Katharine Strong that he and Smith had come to an agreement and that “neither felt a sanction from Dartmouth was appropriate,” according to the lawsuit.

In March 2017, the Committee on Standards heard Doe’s case to determine sanctioning. Strong informed Doe that the committee would receive a 1.5-page summary of the investigation and that he would be unable to appear before or write to the committee, which the lawsuit alleges is atypical.

The committee sanctioned Doe “with immediate separation” on March 29, 2017 for violating Standard I. In April 2017, Doe appealed the investigator’s findings and the sanction, citing bias on the part of the investigator and procedural irregularities in his sanctioning. Dean of the College Rebecca Biron upheld the committee’s sanction in May 2017. The lawsuit claims that Biron was biased against Doe because of his gender, citing previously expressed views in an article she wrote in 2014.

Doe’s lawsuit alleges violations of Title IX, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, as well as breach of contract and good faith and of negligence by the College as a result of a biased investigation that deviated from standard College policies. It asks that the College’s decision be reversed and Doe’s record expunged. Furthermore, the filing requests that Doe be reinstated as a student at the College and receive an award for damages suffered and attorney’s fees. Doe had expected to graduate in spring 2018 prior to his expulsion.

College spokesperson Diana Lawrence declined to comment, citing the ongoing nature of the litigation. Strong wrote in an email statement that she was unable to answer questions related to the lawsuit. Biron wrote in an email statement that she was unable to comment on individual student cases or legal matters. Current Title IX coordinator Allison O’Connell wrote in an email statement that she cannot comment on an ongoing legal matter. Multiple attempts to reach Doe’s attorneys by phone and email were unsuccessful.

Amanda Zhou contributed reporting.