In a win for accused students, Allegheny College in Pennsylvania has settled with a student it expelled for allegedly sexually assaulting a fellow student. The expelled student, identified in court documents as John Doe, reached an agreement with Allegheny following mediation in May, which the judge in the case, Barbara Rothstein, had ordered. On Friday, July 7, a stipulation for dismissal was filed, but without settlement details.
Neither Allegheny nor John’s attorney responded to a Federalist request for more information.
John’s claims against Allegheny were some of the most egregious I have ever seen. John claimed in this lawsuit that Allegheny didn’t even provide him with the details of the accusation against him until one day before his appeal hearing. He received no hearing prior to that, but was still secretly determined responsible for sexual assault.
The Night It Happened, It Appeared Consensual
In September 2014, John engaged in sexual activity with a woman identified in court documents simply as Jane Doe. The two had slept in John’s bed previously, but on this particular night, they engaged in sexual activity. The woman twice left the room to use the bathroom, passing the resident assistant’s room on the way.
Jane also returned to sleep in John’s bed the following night. She proceeded to send him texts for several weeks about their relationship, which John largely ignored. Two months later, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights announced Allegheny was under investigation for violating Title IX and not adequately supporting sexual assault accusers.
The day after this announcement was made, Jane saw John at a party with another woman and was informed the latter was his girlfriend. She made her accusation against John a few days later, claiming he had sexually assaulted her back in September.
While away from school on winter break, John was informed that he had been accused, but was not even told who was accusing him until a week after he returned. Even then, he wasn’t told what specifically Jane was accusing him of until much later.
Let the Kafka Court Begin
John says he was told by Allegheny’s Title IX investigator, Joe Hall, that he had to provide a statement in order to receive more information. John told Hall that he had “not had non-consensual sexual relations with anyone,” but was told he needed to make the statement in writing to learn the details of the accusation against him.
John provided Hall a list of witnesses who knew him and Jane, but was told that if he didn’t provide a written statement, the investigation would continue without him being able to defend himself. John provided Hall a written statement two days later, which called the accusation “simply not true” and re-iterated that he did not “have non-consensual sex with her at anytime.”
Hall told John the statement was inadequate and would not provide additional information about the accusation. Hall now said John had to submit to an interview (about an accusation of which he didn’t know the details) before he would be told more information.
Ten days later, on February 26, Hall finally provided John what he claimed were details of the accusation: one email from Jane that said: “Late in the evening on September 26, and into the early morning of the 27, 2014, [John Doe] did sexually assault me.” John says he was then told to provide his defense before he was informed exactly what Jane claimed had happened that night. Hall then told John in an email that their next meeting would be “to review her actual statement and witness statements.”
John was finally allowed to review the case file against him, but not allowed to take detailed notes. He said his note-taking was monitored and he was told his notes would be destroyed if they were “too detailed.” He felt hurried even though this was all he would be able to use to defend himself. He was told he could come back later to further review the investigative file, but later that day was informed he had just one more day to submit evidence in his favor.
John had classes that week and emailed back and forth about coming back to review the file and present evidence. Despite this, John was informed on March 6, three days after he reviewed the file, that he had been found responsible for sexual assault.
Jane’s Friend Claims the Rape Accusation Was Revenge
Jane appealed the decision, providing additional witnesses, explaining how the process was unfair and he was denied access to the full report until just before his appeal hearing, and how Allegheny ignored witnesses who claimed Jane was a known liar. This was ignored.
John was only allowed to review the investigative report used to make a decision against him one day before his appeal hearing. That same day, one of Jane’s friends came forward to explain how Jane lied and was only accusing John because she was upset that he didn’t want to date her.
“[Jane] is upset because [John] will not talk to her anymore and she can’t stand being at the same school with him,” the friend said. “She doesn’t want to leave Allegheny, so the only way to get him out was to claim that he raped her and to press charges.”
Investigators refused to interview this friend or allow John to call her as a witness at his appeal hearing. John says Allegheny Title IX Coordinator Katie Pope interrupted him during the hearing, which made his testimony confusing. She refused to allow him to present evidence that hurt Jane’s credibility. Testimony from Jane’s own friends who claimed she was lying was ignored.
John lost his appeal and tried to appeal to Allegheny’s president, who just prior to the accusation against John had responded to the federal investigation against the school with new policies that made it easier to expel accused students. Predictably, John’s appeal was denied, so he sued in February 2017, more than a year and a half after he was expelled.
In March Judge Rothstein ordered the two sides to attend mediation, and a settlement was reached in May. Without details, one can only speculate. A rare few students have received large settlements after suing their schools, but far more have accepted reinstatement or at least the removal of the disciplinary action from their transcripts so they can apply to another school.
Allegheny is unlikely to change its policies based on this settlement, as the pressure to find accused students responsible at all costs remains high. Although the Trump administration seems to be indicating that it will attempt to end campus witch hunts, public and media pressure remain on the side of accusers, no matter how weak their accusations.