A new lawsuit filed against Pennsylvania State University includes several abnormalities, including the school’s decision to review the first hearing into a student’s alleged sexual misconduct and the decision to change the definition of consent in the middle of the disciplinary proceedings.
John Doe, as he is referred to in court documents reviewed by The Daily Wire, was accused of sexually assaulting a student referred to as Jane Roe at the end of January 2018. The two had met the previous spring since they were both part of the Schreyer’s Honors College. On January 26, 2018, the two met up again in a computer lab and started talking. They then started flirting and Jane put her number into John’s phone, according to the lawsuit, and texted herself, “I LOVE YOU.” The two continued to flirt for several days, and Jane even spent time in John’s dorm room on his bed. She told him she didn’t want to be “friends with benefits.”
On January 27, 2018, Jane told John her roommate was out and gave him her dorm room number. John went to her room at 1 a.m. and the two talked and began kissing. John’s lawsuit claims that Jane’s initial accusation lined up with his own memory of the incident — he performed several sexual acts on her but stopped as soon as she asked and that she told him to stay in her room when she went to the bathroom and then provided him with a condom. The two engaged in sexual intercourse. After the encounter, Jane continued to flirt with John over text messages and allegedly told her friends she wanted to have sex with him again. The lawsuit claims Jane later changed her account of the sexual encounter to claim that John physically forced her into sex and that she tried to get away from him.
A hearing panel was convened, and John was denied due process, as have many students — he was not allowed to call witnesses in his defense or cross-examine his accuser or the witnesses against him. Jane was allowed to present “new information” during her testimony that had not been included in the information John received about the investigation, even though the two were both told explicitly not to bring up “new information.” Jane’s new evidence was her explanations for why she sent flirtatious texts to John before and after their encounter and “explain unfavorable and contradictory information in the packet,” John’s lawsuit states.
John was found responsible and suspended for one year. However, after the hearing, PSU’s Title IX Coordinator Chris Harris asked for a more detailed explanation of why John was found responsible, something that hadn’t been done before and was not outlined in the published disciplinary proceedings information.
The hearing panel’s chair told Harris that the “panel felt that the respondent’s continual flattery … constitutes cajoling,” giving several examples: “‘Haha nah you beautiful’ followed by two wink emojis, then followed by ‘I wanna be both’ and ‘You’re beautiful’ and [‘]I’m not that emotional, I could be both’ after she clearly stated ‘Still not gonna f*** u, friend’ followed by two squinting face with tongue emojis and her statement that [hooking up] ‘ruins friendships,[‘].”
The panel also found Jane more credible than John because she “was able to offer specific details as to the interaction which were consistent not only throughout the investigation, but also with the text message thread provided,” yet John couldn’t offer such details until he saw the allegations against him. Jane made her accusation against John six months after their encounter in January 2018, and the hearing did not occur until 2019.
While Doe was appealing the decision, he was informed by Danny Shaha, assistant vice president of student affairs, that the appeals process was on hold. He wrote to the appeals officer that the first hearing was under review as “the board may have misinterpreted the University’s definition and application of ‘coercion.’”
Shaha did not vacate the hearing panel’s finding since it didn’t meet the definition of coercion. Instead, he set up a new hearing. Prior to the second hearing, John was provided with a copy of the university’s new definition of consent, which included the word “cajoling” as part of the definition of coercion. The definition was not, at the time, published anywhere public by the school, but was used against him in the new hearing.
John is now suing to stop the ongoing disciplinary process, claiming due process violations and gender discrimination.