A judge has made a decision in the John Doe v. Princeton University case involving a male student currently involved in a Title IX investigation over sexual misconduct that occurred in spring 2017.
On Jan. 9, U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp denied the plaintiff’s request for a preliminary injunction, which would have paused the Title IX investigation. The judge granted, in part, the University’s motion to have the case dismissed, dropping one of four counts.
The complaint sought to pause the University from continuing a Title IX investigation until the Department of Education’s proposed changes to Title IX regulations take effect.
Shipp dismissed, in favor of the University, the first count of violation of due process rights. However, the University’s motion to dismiss the count of breach of contract, count of anticipatory breach of contract, and count of breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing was denied.
“We have reviewed the judge’s decision. We will proceed with this [particular investigation] and any other Title IX investigation in accordance with established procedures,” University spokesperson Ben Chang wrote in an email to The Daily Princetonian.
Ronald Israel, the attorney for the plaintiff, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The plaintiff filed the suit on Nov. 28, 2018, as “John Doe” to protect his identity. According to court documentation obtained by the ‘Prince,’ he is a resident of New York and a student at the University.
The court documentation also shows that Doe began a relationship with a female student, referred to in the documentation as “Jane Roe,” for privacy reasons, in the spring of 2017. On or near Jan. 14, 2018, Doe advised the University that he felt that he was being harassed by Roe. He was not made aware of Roe’s allegations against him, for alleged sexual misconduct during the spring of 2017, or that the University had commenced a Title IX investigation into the 2017 incident until Nov. 7, 2018.
The plaintiff was originally scheduled to be interviewed on Nov. 26, 2018, about the alleged misconduct. Upon learning of the proposed changes to the Title IX regulations, he requested an extension until Jan. 28, the end of the 60-day public comment period. The University granted the plaintiff two one-week extensions, but refused to delay the investigation until the implementation of the Department of Education’s suggested Title IX policies.
The proposed regulations, if enacted, will “establish procedural safeguards that must be incorporated into a [university’s] grievance procedures to ensure a fair and reliable factual determination when a [university] investigates and adjudicates a sexual harassment complaint.”
Specifically, the proposed regulations would require a live hearing and cross-examination of Jane Roe and may heighten the burden of proof required to find an alleged perpetrator guilty under Title IX.
In an interview with the ‘Prince’ in Dec. 2018, University Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity Michele Minter said that the University was “working to understand what’s in the proposed regulations and think with our counterparts at other schools about what kind of questions or comments we might want to make.”
“The University is still reviewing the proposed regulations and has not made a decision on how it will respond,” Minter wrote in a Jan. 10 email to the ‘Prince.’
Current Title IX policy requires the “preponderance of evidence standard” in sexual misconduct cases, which “requires a determination of guilt if the incident was more likely than not to have occurred.”
The proposed rules, however, would allow institutions to choose between the preponderance standard or the “clear and convincing” standard in sexual misconduct cases. They may only impose the preponderance standard if the violations do not involve sexual harassment, but carry the same disciplinary consequences, and if that same standard is also applied to complaints against employees and faculty.
The plaintiff believed that if the University proceeded in its investigations before these proposed rules take effect, then he would be “be irreparably harmed.” Because of this, Doe requested a preliminary injunction to pause the Title IX investigation.
Shipp denied this request, writing that Doe “has failed to establish that he will suffer immediate irreparable harm in the absence of the Court providing relief.”
Doe also claimed that the University violated his due process rights by failing to postpone his interview until after the 60-day period. In the Jan. 9 ruling, this count of violation of due process rights was been dismissed by the judge.
“Plaintiff’s due process claim fails on its face,” Shipp wrote in his opinion.
According to Shipp, the proposed changes to Title IX regulation “are merely proposals and do not have the force of law,” and the plaintiff failed to prove that the present applications of the University’s Rights, Rules, Responsibilities (RRR) violates his due process rights.
The suit had claimed that the University breached its contract with Doe, citing a section of the RRR which states, “There may be circumstances that require the extension of time frames for good cause . . . Time frames may be extended to ensure the integrity and completeness of the investigation, comply with a request by external law enforcement, accommodate the availability of a witness, or accommodate delays by the parties; or for other legitimate reasons.”
From the plaintiff’s standpoint, the new DOE proposal constitutes a “good cause” for an extension. The suit claims that, by not permitting the extension in spite of good cause, the University violated its own policies and its agreement with Doe.
By this same reasoning, the suit claimed that the University violated “the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing” that is existent in every contract. The plaintiff also accused the University of an “anticipatory breach of contract,” alleging that the University has indicated, by failing to adjourn the Title IX investigation, that it will not perform contractual obligations provided in the RRR.
According to Shipp, Doe has “plausibly alleged the existence of a contract” between him and the University and “has also plausibly alleged that Princeton has breached that contract by denying Plaintiff’s extension of time for ‘good cause.’”
The general counsel of the University, Ramona Romero, deferred comment to Chang.
Associate News Editor Ivy Truong contributed reporting.
This story was updated at 10:21 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 10.