Lawsuit alleges College unfairly expelled student

by Elizabeth Janowski | 10/1/18 2:40am

On Aug. 6, a former Dartmouth student filed a lawsuit against the College, alleging that he was wrongfully expelled last September following unfair disciplinary hearing procedures that breached the College’s contractual obligations to him and violated his Title IX rights. He is seeking the reversal of the College’s decision, reinstatement at the College, the expungement of his record and monetary compensation for financial and emotional damages. Prior to his expulsion, the student had expected to graduate in spring 2018.

According to a copy of the complaint obtained by The Dartmouth, the College’s decision last year came after a series of incidents in which the student, who filed the complaint under the pseudonym John Doe, allegedly threatened a female student with whom he used to be in a relationship. The female student, referred to as Sally Smith, attended a university outside of the state of New Hampshire.

In March 2017, according to the lawsuit, Smith submitted a report composed of messages from Doe to her university’s police department and was granted a restraining order against him. The university’s police department forwarded the report to Dartmouth’s Judicial Affairs Office, which determined that it was unnecessary to initiate further disciplinary action against Doe at the time, the lawsuit says.

Doe sent a message to Smith and her mother in May 2017, prompting Smith’s mother to notify the police that Doe had violated the restraining order, according to the lawsuit. He was subsequently arrested by the Hanover police department, though he was later found not guilty in court of violating the order, the suit says.

The complaint says that JAO assistant director Adam Knowlton-Young notified Doe that the College was alleging him of violating two standards of conduct in the Dartmouth Student Handbook — Standard of Conduct II, which relates to behavior that threatens the safety of others, and Standard of Conduct VI, which relates to conduct that violates laws of local, state, federal or foreign jurisdictions.

At a hearing before the Committee on Standards on Sept. 21, 2017, the COS expelled Doe, using information in the report Smith had filed in March as a basis for its decision, the lawsuit alleges.

According to Doe’s complaint, COS chair Daniel Nelson wrote in the official finding report that he and the other committee members cited Doe’s “inability to take responsibility for his actions and his lack of awareness of the significance of his actions and their impact on others” as principal reasons for his expulsion, based on information in the March 2017 report.

Doe alleges the College violated his right to due process by failing to address the two allegations he was given written notice of prior to the hearing, instead sanctioning him based on his observed failure to show remorse for his actions and on Smith’s March report, which he claims he was made to believe had been reviewed and dismissed several months earlier.

As Doe sought to appeal the College’s decision in the weeks following the hearing, several members of the Dartmouth staff — including former associate general counsel Kevin O’Leary, Nelson and JAO director Katharine Strong — allegedly offered Doe inconsistent and contradictory explanations for the sanction.

In October 2017, Doe submitted an appeal of the COS’s sanctions on the grounds of procedural error. Former dean of the College Rebecca Biron upheld the COS’s decision, asserting that no procedural error had occurred and that Doe had been provided notice of the allegation, the suit alleges.

Doe claims that Biron’s verdict was motivated by biases against his gender, referencing an article she wrote in 2014 about rape culture on college campuses, entitled “Behind Closed Doors: Rape, Murder, and the Misplaced Confidence of Men.” According to Doe, Biron’s statements in the article are “highly inappropriate for an adjudicator” and indicative of her belief that men are “inherently violent.” Consequently, Doe raised an allegation of a Title IX violation in his complaint, stating that the disciplinary proceedings were marred by gender bias.

Doe received a secondary appeal in January 2018, in which the suit alleges he attempted to present an 166-page report addressing a variety of subjects that Biron, O’Leary and Strong had all allegedly instructed him to raise to the COS before his hearing. According to Doe’s complaint, the COS purportedly excluded this information from their considerations. The decision to impose a sanction of expulsion upon Doe was upheld.

Knowlton-Young authored the finding report for the second hearing, the suit says.

“Despite his assertion that he accepted responsibility and described his behavior as the ‘worst thing’ he’d ever done, the student’s other statements led the Committee to believe that he felt his actions during the period were justified, and that [Smith], her family and Dartmouth were to blame,” Knowlton-Young is said to have written in the report. “Under the circumstances, the panel expressed concern for the safety and security of the Dartmouth community if the student were to continue his education here.”

In addition to charges of breach of contract and Title IX violations, Doe alleges the College breached the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, negligence, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, estoppel and reliance, unfair and deceptive trade practices, equitable relief in the form of a declaratory judgment, negligent training and supervision of employees, fraudulent misrepresentation and fraudulent concealment.

Doe filed the complaint pro se, meaning without the assistance or representation of an attorney.

Biron, Doe, College spokesperson Diana Lawrence, interim dean of the College Kathryn Lively and Title IX coordinator Kristi Clemens all declined requests for comment. Knowlton-Young, general counsel Sandhya Iyer and Strong could not be reached for comment.