Sex Discrimination Lawsuit Over Alleged Wrongful Title IX Suspension Against UCLA Can Go Forward

Start at Doe v. RegentsIt was decided by the Ninth Circuit on Tuesday in an opinion of Judge Consuelo callahan. Judge Danielle J. Forrest joined Judge Carol Bagley Amon and District Judge.

Based on a former student’s bare allegations of misconduct, and before beginning a formal Title IX investigation, the University of California, Los Angeles (the “University” or “UCLA”) issued an immediate interim suspension of John Doe, a Chinese national graduate student just months away from completing his Ph.D. in chemistry/biochemistry. Doe was then suspended for two-years by the University after he was found to have violated their dating violence policy and put Jane Roe “in danger of bodily injury” — just one of 13 charges that the University had brought against him. As a result, Doe lost his housing, his job as a teaching assistant on campus, his ability to complete his Ph.D., and his student visa….

We have clarified this in Schwake v. Arizona Board of Regents (9th Cir. 2020), the relevant inquiry on a motion to dismiss a Title IX claim in this context is whether the alleged facts, if true, raise a plausible inference that the university discriminated against the plaintiff on the basis of sex…. Doe’s First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) meets this standard….

At all relevant times herein, Doe was a Chinese national graduate student at UCLA on a student visa pursuing his Ph.D. in chemistry/biochemistry. Jane Roe was a student at UCLA when Doe met Jane in chemistry class. They began to date that summer. The couple got engaged in December 2016 after a long-lasting romantic relationship. After Doe graduated with his doctorate, they planned to wed.

The relationship was abruptly ended in February 2017 after Doe discovered that Roe had been unfaithful throughout their relationship. Doe attempted to end his relationship with Roe on February 12th, and they briefly met outside Roe’s house. By text message the couple agreed to meet up on campus. AfterDoe finished his course, and Roe was able to take a break on February 13 so that Roe could exchange any property they had. Doe discovered that Roe had depleted their entire joint bank account of $8,000 and did not have the balance.

Roe arrived at Doe’s campus teaching assistant office unannounced, just before Doe was due to start his class, on February 13th, and confronted him. Roe did not attend UCLA as an active student. Roe repeatedly banged on Doe’s door, but did not announce herself until Doe responded. Roe was not allowed into Doe’s office because Doe was currently meeting with another student. Roe asked Doe to return Doe’s Social Security card, which Doe claimed he had in his possession. Roe claimed that Doe had accidentally tossed his engagement ring into the sea when Doe demanded its return.

Doe said that he had to go to his classroom and Roe asked him to hold off until he finished. Roe declined to allow Doe leave his office. Roe tried to block Doe’s entrance with her arms outstretched and threatened to call police to arrest Doe. Roe eventually gave way to Doe, and Doe managed to reach his classroom. Roe followed Doe and tried unsuccessfully to stop him entering his classroom.

Roe called University Police to report Doe’s push in Doe’s upper body area. Doe also grabbed Roe’s wrist and forearm while Doe was lecturing his class. After completing his teaching class, Doe was arrested by the University Police for domestic battery.

Roe filed a Title IX lawsuit against Doe on April 13th, two months following the incident. She alleged thirteen incidents of misconduct dating back to Fall 2014. The incident occurred in February 2014. Roe was not a UCLA student. However, she claimed to be. UCLA didn’t verify Roe’s student status. Roe reported that Doe had fractured her ribs during her February 13 encounter. The University ruled that this was untrue.

Doe was charged by the Title IX Office at the University and the Office of Student Conduct with violating policies related to stalking, harassment, terrorizing behavior, dating violence and conduct that may pose a threat to health and safety. In the absence of a hearing and in the interim, the Office of the Dean of Students suspended Doe from UCLA properties and expelled him from student housing. {Doe appealed Doe’s interim suspension. On May 22, 2017 a special hearing was held by the University to modify the suspension so that Doe could participate in some activities on campus.}…

Doe submitted a petition for the writ to mandamus against Regents at Los Angeles Superior Court on February 13, 2018. In it, he challenged University’s decision and disciplinary procedures. Doe requested Judge Chalfant to grant his motion to stop the decision and sanction. He found in pertinent part that there was no evidence supporting the university’s conclusions. On May 22, 2018, Doe filed a Confession of Judgment in which the Regents stated that they believed Doe’s petition should have been granted. Doe was awarded the judgment by the court. The sanction and decision of the Regents were also vacated.

Doe’s student visa status was also affected by this late relief.

Doe’s sexual discrimination against UCLA was approved by the court

Doe’s [Complaint]We divide his pertinent allegations into three groups: 1) allegations of external pressures; 2) allegations about an internal practice and pattern of bias and 3) allegations regarding specific instances. Each of these allegations is examined individually. These allegations together raise enough evidence to support dismissal on the grounds of discrimination based upon sex.

To save space, I will skip items 1 & 2 (although you can still read their opinions in the opinion), to focus on item 3.

These allegations, taken in combination, are sufficient to allege that there was sex discrimination. Doe must “combine” the above allegations to be able to survive a motion for dismissal. [those allegations]”with facts that are specific to his case.” Doe has done enough to do so, according to us.

The first is the [Complaint]According to Doe, Jason Zeck (UCLA’s Respondent Coordinator), advised Doe that no female had ever made false allegations about an ex-boyfriend during a Title IX investigation in July 2017. Because Mr. Zeck was not found to be responsible for any of the 13 misconduct allegations Roe brought against Roe, it is clear that the Regents believe this statement can’t possibly be true. {An alternative explanation might be that, when confronted by a claim that lacked merit, the University rushed to judgment in issuing the two-year interim suspension and then sought out a way to find the accused responsible for something in order to justify its earlier actions.}

As we have to accept this allegation, Mr. Zeck’s statements suggest that Title IX staff at UCLA made biased assumptions about male respondents in Doe’s disciplinary hearing. It is clear that Mr. Zeck’s statement supports the inference that Roe’s accusations (and Does defenses thereof) were prejudged and that the Regents prejudged Doe during the investigation on the grounds of gender.

Contrary to Regents argument, statements made by “pertinent university officials” and not decision makers can be used to support a conclusion of gender bias. These comments by Mr. Zeck are pertinent because he was the Title IX “Respondent Coordinator”. While he was not involved in the decision-making process, Zeck had a good understanding of Title IX and the facts surrounding Doe’s case. So it’s reasonable to assume that Zeck’s statements reflect the wider gender assumptions UCLA’s Title IX team made during Doe’s investigation.

Second, there is [Complaint]Doe claims that Associate Dean Rush was the final decision-maker in this matter. She advised her that, if Roe were to have visited her office, Roe would not be surprised. Associate Dean Rush’s comment suggests that she did not view Roe as an aggressor, and at the very least raises the question of whether, if the gender roles were reversed, Associate Dean Rush would have made the same recommendation to a female approached by her angry, male ex-fiancé when he showed up unannounced to confront her at her place of employment.

It [Complaint]Further allegations include several other facts that, if true, show irregularities in Doe’s proceedings. These, although not conclusive, can be used to support a gender bias inference.

The example of this is the [Complaint]The University failed to investigate Doe’s claim that Roe wasn’t a student during the investigation. Roe also didn’t discredit Roe after it was discovered that Roe misrepresented her student status and claimed that she had fractured a bone in her rib on February 13. {Roe’s status as a non-student at the time of the incident would not preclude the University from proceeding with investigating her complaint under Title IX because her complaint also included allegations of misconduct dating back to 2014, when she was a student at UCLA.} The [Complaint]The investigation also includes allegations of other irregularities, such as the finding by Ms. Shakoori of violations not covered in the joint notice or amended joint notice of charges.

It [Complaint]enumerates other irregular proceedings allegations during the appeal hearing. These include that (1) Doe had to bear the responsibility, and not the University. (2) Doe wasn’t allowed to speak at this hearing. (3) Fact witness testimony supporting Doe’s account of events was rejected, while Roe witness testimony was accepted by the appeal panel without an independent interview. (4) Associate Dean Rush demonstrated gender bias by falsely stating that the two year suspension was necessary by SVSH policy for. AnyTypes of dating violence The appeal panel also found that Roe was in fear of “bodily injury” and not “serious bodily injury,” as required by the policy. [Complaint]Referred to the ruling of the state court on the motion for stay at the writ proceeding. The court determined that evidence didn’t support Regents findings.

The Regents maintains these procedural irregularities don’t suggest gender discrimination, but this Circuit and the Seventh Circuit have all found that similar irregularities can be used to support a conclusion of gender bias.

Even though Doe was not found guilty of twelve of thirteen accusations against him, the fact that Doe was not held responsible does not mean the allegations about irregularities in the proceeding are less pertinent to this inquiry. Instead, a series of procedural errors that favor a male respondent makes it look biased even though the Regents claim otherwise.

Doe alleges that he was subject to external pressures, sex discrimination, and an internal practice and pattern of bias. Additionally, there are allegations about his specific disciplinary case. It is possible that Doe and the University have made discriminatory remarks regarding sex. Doe’s Title IX claim can survive a motion of dismissal by proving that Doe was treated unfairly because of sex discrimination. Doe might have to prove his claims, but the factfinder may not be convinced by them.