A Boston College student had his suspension for an alleged sexual misconduct incident temporarily overturned by a federal judge on Tuesday. The student, identified only as “John Doe” in court documents, filed a civil suit against the University on July 29 in which he alleged that he was deprived of a fair process during BC’s disciplinary proceedings involving him this spring.
This case is unrelated to the $3 million dollar lawsuit pending against the University.
This appears to be the first time a court has overturned a suspension issued by the University. The court order says that Doe should be allowed, “without limitation” to register for classes this fall. Doe will also be allowed to participate fully in all University activities.
K.C. Johnson, a professor at Brooklyn College who chronicles Title IX litigation, described the wording used in the judge’s order as “unusually strong” compared to other similar injunctions.
BC suspended Doe on June 18, and ruled against him on appeal on July 24 for actions that have not yet been publicly disclosed. Most records related to the case remain sealed in order to preserve the anonymity of the parties. The nature of the complaint is expected to become part of the public record in the next few weeks.
“Boston College has been ordered by the US District Court to stay the suspension,” University Spokesman Jack Dunn said in an email statement to The Heights. “We are reviewing the judge’s decision and evaluating our options regarding an appeal.”
The only scenarios in which Doe’s suspension can be reinstated is if he loses the suit or if BC successfully appeals the order.
The plaintiff’s defense team could not be reached for comment. Doe’s representatives belong to the firm Nesenoff and Miltenburg—Andrew Miltenberg is one of Doe’s attorneys. Miltenberg’s higher education team has filed over 60 Title IX related lawsuits—more than any other law firm, according to a May press release.
In addition to this injunction, Doe has filed for a temporary restraining order. It is unclear whom the order is filed against, as that request remains sealed. That request has not yet been ruled on, according to the court docket.
Presiding Judge Douglas P. Woodlock ruled that Doe’s suspension should be lifted due, in part, to the “substantial likelihood that John Doe will succeed on his claims that he was deprived of fair process” during the University’s disciplinary process.
The judge wrote that Doe would suffer “irrevocable harm” if the suspension was not lifted before the fall semester began.
Johnson said that this is the 18th time in eight years that a preliminary injunction has resulted in the stay of a student’s suspension since the Obama administration issued a Dear Colleague letter in 2011 that redefined the role college disciplinary boards should take in regard to potential Title IX and sexual misconduct violations.
The Trump administration rescinded that letter earlier this year, but 2011 is still seen as a turning point in the way colleges deal with Title IX-related issues.
Massachusetts is currently considering adopting legislation that would restore Obama-era Title IX guidelines. At the moment, colleges are able to determine what standard of evidence is required to prove that someone who is accused of a misconduct violation is guilty, and exactly what sort of due process rights are afforded to both the accuser and the accused during sexual misconduct investigations.
The University also changed its organizational structure in the Division of Student Affairs this summer, eliminating the dean of students office previously headed by Tom Mogan. Mogan has retained his position as an associate vice president of the University, but now oversees student engagement and formation. Corey Kelly previously served as the dean of student conduct and is now the director of student conduct. Melinda Stoops retains her position as an associate vice president of the University in the same fashion Mogan has, but now oversees student health and wellness in addition to serving as the student Title IX coordinator.
In a follow-up interview, Mogan clarified that the changes were not a result of the lawsuit. The reshuffle is intended to better organize and divide the different offices and responsibilities within the student affairs umbrella, according to Mogan.
BC’s student handbook for the 2019-20 academic year is not yet available online, so any modifications to the disciplinary process resulting from the elimination of the Office of the Dean of Students has not yet been released publicly.
The next hearing in this lawsuit is scheduled for Sept. 5, when the two sides will make final recommendations regarding where redactions are necessary in court documents that are due to become public record before the documents are unsealed.
Correction (8/27/19, 1:39 p.m.): This article originally inaccurately reported that Melinda Stoops is no longer serves as the student Title IX Coordinator. The error has been rectified.
Featured Image by Celine Lim / Heights Editor