A male student at the University of Delaware had completed all his course requirements and participated in formal graduation ceremonies when the school retroactively suspended him for a sexual misconduct claim against him the previous year.
John Doe, as he is referred to in court documents, had planned to enter the military as an officer after graduating from the university. He completed all of his course requirements and Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) requirements and even walked in his official graduation ceremony. Having completed his education at the university, he was set to move on to the military as a second lieutenant. But even though he was no longer enrolled with UD and therefore had no involvement with the school, the university found him responsible for sexual misconduct and retroactively suspended him for two years, even though he had been allowed to go to class and complete assignments during that time without issue. The stunning decision by the school has kept John from beginning his military career and moving on from college.
The episode stems from an encounter on the night of June 30, 2018, between John and a woman referred to as Jane Roe in court documents. The encounter occurred at an off-campus residency over summer break, so neither John nor Jane were enrolled in any classes at UD. John argues in his lawsuit that this meant the university had no jurisdiction over their encounter under Title IX, which prohibits colleges and universities from discriminating against students on the basis of sex, and which has been used in the past decade to force colleges to adjudicate allegations of sexual assault.
Months after his encounter with Jane, which is not described in court documents, John received a letter from UD stating that a complaint had been initiated against him by a female student. The letter John received said he had been accused of “sexual assault” but included no “factual details or other foundational underpinning for that conclusory statement,” John’s lawsuit says. In Roe’s complaint, she allegedly accused John of violating the school’s sexual misconduct policy, which can include sexual harassment, verbal harassment, or a wide range of actions deemed “sexual assault,” including unwanted kissing or touching. John’s lawsuit maintains that the actions of which he was accused, even if true, didn’t warrant the extreme punishment the university enacted on him after he had already graduated. His lawsuit states that the conduct for which he was found responsible for “is at most in the modest range in terms of degree of severity,” yet half his education was wiped out.
UD policy at the time said John was entitled to a copy of Jane’s complaint, but he didn’t receive one, nor did he even receive a summary of the allegations against him. John says he didn’t learn the allegations against him until he “was put on the spot by the Investigator at the interview she conducted.”
John admits in his lawsuit that he did receive some due process protections, such as being able to submit questions and statements and to look at – but not acquire – a copy of the investigative report against him. John was not able to be fully represented by legal counsel, receive a hearing, learn the allegations against him in a timely manner so he could prepare a full defense, or cross-examine his accuser or the evidence against him. Jane was hidden from John at all times and she was not asked any adverse questioning.
John’s lawsuit says the university provides a range of discipline for conduct violations, but nowhere in the university’s list of sanctions is it mentioned that the school can erase already completed semesters and suspend a student who has already earned their Bachelor’s Degree, Diploma, and official transcript.
John was found responsible for sexual misconduct and he appealed, though that was denied. His lawsuit states that the finding against him and the sanction didn’t occur until after he had already graduated and ended his enrollment at the university. Not only did UD bar John from getting his physical diploma and receiving a copy of his transcript, which he needs to begin his career in the military, but it retroactively suspended him for two years, erasing four semesters worth of work that had been completed and accepted.
UD now refuses to provide John his diploma or his transcript or confirm to the ROTC program that he successfully completed his degree.
“The University’s position is founded solely upon its invalid and illogical theory that it can suspend a former student who is no longer enrolled, post-graduation,” John says in his lawsuit. Prior to the allegations, John had no disciplinary record, and he technically had a clean record his entire tenure at UD, since the mark wasn’t placed on his transcript until after he graduated.
“The University unreasonably and arbitrarily imposed a suspension sanction that far exceeds what the circumstances and Doe’s pristine record justified,” the lawsuit says. “The University’s sanctions were excessive and unreasonable, constitute and erroneous outcome, and are sex-based discrimination in violation of Title IX.”
As a result of UD’s decision, the ROTC Program won’t commission John as an officer in the U.S. military. The program also indicated to John that he may be “required to pay back all college education reimbursement amounts paid to him while a student, which total approximately $70,000.”
UD filed a motion to dismiss John’s lawsuit but was denied, meaning John’s lawsuit was allowed to move forward. As author and professor K.C. Johnson noted on Twitter, this is the 84th case at the federal level to settle after a university received an unfavorable decision from a judge or magistrate.
The details of the settlement are unknown, as they often are, but it is unlikely that John’s attorney would have settled for anything less than ensuring that John would receive his diploma and transcript.