Court Denies Preliminary Injunction and Temporary Restraining Order for Title IX Suspension

A student pursuing a claim against their school based on disciplinary action arising from a Title IX complaint may also seek a temporary restraining order or injunction to stop a suspension or expulsion while their case is pending.  A student recently sought to enjoin a suspension.

The medical student filed suit against his private New York medical school after he was suspended for 20 months following a finding he was responsible for sexual misconduct.  He alleged that the school’s adjudication of the complaint violated Title IX and New York City Human Rights laws.  He also made a breach of contract claim.  He moved for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to enjoin the suspension and reinstate him.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff and the complainant, identified by the court as Jane Roe, were both students at the school.  After the graduation formal, several people went to the plaintiff’s apartment on campus.  Jane Roe asked to spend the night because she was intoxicated.  The plaintiff gave her a blanket and pillow and offered her the couch.

She alleged that she woke up to the plaintiff kissing her temple and groping her breasts.  The plaintiff claimed he did not grope her, but moved her so she was propped up on the sofa out of concern she would aspirate.

Roe filed a Title IX complaint and the school engaged an outside investigation firm.  Following the investigation, the school held a hearing.  Both parties had counsel at the hearing.  Roe answered questions by the three-person panel, but the plaintiff refused.  The attorneys cross-examined the witnesses.

The panel found the plaintiff responsible for sexual misconduct. The panel acknowledged inconsistencies in Roe’s statements, but found her more credible.  The plaintiff was suspended for 20 months, required to undergo a mandatory alcohol use disorder evaluation, received a notation on his transcript and performance evaluation, was issued a no-contact order with Roe, and required to leave student housing.

Both parties appealed the decision, but the appeals panel affirmed the decision of the hearing panel.  Based on the school’s policy, the Dean’s designee reviewed the appeals decision and also upheld the original decision.

The plaintiff filed suit and was granted leave to proceed under a pseudonym.  He also moved for the temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

A party seeking a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction in the Second Circuit must show they will be irreparably harmed if the relief is not granted and either that they are likely to succeed on the merits or raise serious questions going to the merits.

Likelihood of Success on the Merits

The court concluded the plaintiff was seeking a prohibitory injunction and was therefore not subject to the higher standard required for a mandatory injunction.

The plaintiff’s Title IX claim was based on erroneous outcome, which required him to show that there was “articulable doubt” about the proceeding’s outcome and that “gender bias was a motivating factor. . .” Doe v. Colgate Univ. 

The plaintiff argued the hearing panel ignored inconsistencies in Roe’s statements.  The school argued the panel considered them, but still found Roe credible.  The court pointed out the panel had explained why it found Roe more credible in its decision, noted the inconsistencies, and explained how it weighed them.

The plaintiff argued the school did not apply a preponderance of the evidence standard and shifted the burden to him, but the court noted the panel told him he did not have the burden of proof.

The court found the plaintiff had not shown articulable doubt as to the outcome of the hearing.

The plaintiff argued the proceeding was influenced by anti-male bias.  The court found no evidence of gender bias in the record. The plaintiff did not cite to any statements from the hearing panel officials or other school officials showing discriminatory intent.  He did not show gender bias in any pattern of the school’s decision-making.  He alleged the school’s employee training on sexual harassment only included examples of male perpetrators.  The school noted that these examples were not from its Title IX training, which was provided by a vendor and contained examples with different genders.

The plaintiff also alleged the Title IX Coordinator was biased against men.  He pointed to two social media posts, which the court stated involved gender issues that were not related to Title IX.  The court also noted the Title IX Coordinator had a limited role in the case, only determining if the complaint met the Title IX definition of sexual misconduct.

The court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the school’s sexual misconduct policy language implied that complainants should be believed, noting the cited language was taken from a government website on Title IX.

The plaintiff also argued public pressure after a case alleging gender discrimination against women had affected the school’s hearing process.  The court concluded this was an indirect association that was insufficient to show gender bias.

The court found the plaintiff had failed to show he was likely to succeed in showing gender bias.

The court also found the plaintiff was unlikely to succeed on his breach of contract and human rights claims.

Irreparable Harm

Second Circuit case law has found that a delay in a student’s education and career can be adequately remedied through monetary damages. The court concluded that the plaintiff could still complete his requirement and graduate when he returned from the suspension.  He therefore had not shown irreparable harm.

The court denied the plaintiff’s motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

Seek Experienced Title IX Counsel

Although the court in this case denied the plaintiff’s motion, different facts can lead to a different result.  If you have been the subject of a Title IX complaint, a skilled Title IX defense attorney can help you through the Title IX investigation and disciplinary process and be prepared to take other action if necessary.  Schedule a consultation with Blair & Kim, PLLC, by calling (206) 622-6562.


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