A blockbuster decision dropped in the Title IX Sexual Assault world last week when the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, in part, against Miami University in a case filed by a suspended student. The student had been suspended for sexual assault based on a theory that the alleged victim was "severely intoxicated" (an undefined term in Miami's Code of Student Conduct) when sexual conduct allegedly occurred. There are several layers to this decision that carry important implications for both accused students and alleged victims; perhaps the most interesting involve the constitutional rights of equal protection under the law in terms of who Miami chooses to prosecute for a claim of sexual assault.
Miami University's Code of Student Conduct sets a bright-line rule that if a student is "severely intoxicated," then anyone who has any sexual contact with that student has committed a sexual assault against that student-regardless of what the "severely intoxicated" student said or did to indicate that they wanted to have sexual contact with the accused. In John Doe the alleged victim is said to have climbed into bed with the accused, where sexual contact between the two occurred. The alleged victim was purportedly "severely intoxicated," but, in a common twist, the accused student also presented significant evidence that he too was "severely intoxicated." Nonetheless, Miami did not choose to bring an action against the alleged victim for violating the Code of Student Conduct. As the Court noted, Miami had "credible information that both students had potentially violated the University's sexual misconduct policy...however, chose not to pursue disciplinary action against the female student, but only against the male student." The Court found these facts significant enough for the case to proceed on a theory that Miami denied the accused student "equal protection under the law."
The crux of this part of the case can be stated more simply, if not more crudely, by asking "is a drunken hookup a sexual assault?" If so, are there not thousands of sexual assaults occurring on college campuses every weekend? Is the fair approach under this standard to suspend both parties from school after such an encounter?
The case will now proceed to discovery, or perhaps settle, and we will learn more. But these are important issues to consider and watch as they proceed through the courts. Contact the attorneys at Rittgers & Rittgers for more information about Title IX cases.