Court hearing focuses on Jacob Doe’s anonymity in UNC sex assault case

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  • A court hearing Tuesday in Asheville could help determine whether an expelled University of North Carolina student can continue to shield his real name while he sues the school.
  • Jacob Doe argues the UNC Chapel Hill botched a sexual assault investigation before deciding to expel him.
  • UNC System lawyers alerted Doe's lawyers on Oct. 3 that a public records request could force the university to reveal Doe's name.

A federal court hearing scheduled Tuesday morning in Asheville could help determine whether a former University of North Carolina student can continue to shield his real name while he sues the school. The student identified as Jacob Doe claims UNC Chapel Hill botched a sexual assault investigation before expelling him.

US District Judge Max Cogburn is scheduled to hear arguments at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday related to Doe’s new motions for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

Doe hopes to prevent UNC from responding to a public records request that could reveal his identity.

“Recently, the Supreme Court of North Carolina determined that under the state public records law, North Carolina’s public universities must disclose to the press some disciplinary records relating to students found to have violated sexual assault policies,” Doe’s lawyers wrote Friday. “There is no guidance in this decision, or any subsequent holdings, discussing the timing of the disclosure, whether such disclosure should be withheld pending a federal litigation that challenges the outcome of a disciplinary administrative proceeding, or whether a judicial order setting aside the disciplinary findings as unlawful negates a disclosure obligation.”

Doe’s lawsuit focuses on the process UNC used to suspend and then expel him from the Chapel Hill campus.

“As Plaintiff is likely to succeed on the merits of the case and his reputation, future education and employment will be irreparably harmed if disclosure of the outcome of UNC’s flawed process comes to light, Plaintiff is seeking a temporary restraining order and injunction, to stay the disclosure of his name and disciplinary records to the press and the public, until a final determination is made in this federal lawsuit,” according to the latest court filing. “Respectfully, if the disclosure is permitted now, even if this Court later reverses UNC’s findings and sanctions, such a decision will not be able to undo the harm caused to Plaintiff by the disclosure. Conversely, a delay in the disclosure of the disciplinary findings causes no harm to UNC, its students, the media or the public at large.”

Doe had filed similar requests for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction in February. Both sides in the case agreed to drop the issue in March because the university had not received any requests for records that could reveal Doe’s name.

The UNC System alerted Doe’s lawyers on Oct. 3 “that a public records request was made seeking the disclosure of Doe’s true name.” Lawyers on both sides of the case contacted the federal court. Court staff advised the parties to refile the motions dropped in the spring.

Doe’s suit claims UNC violated Title IX, as well as his civil rights under a federal law known as §1983. He also claims “breach of contract, negligent hiring, tortious interference with contract, and violation of North Carolina’s Constitution.”

The 192-page lawsuit alleges that Doe was a sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2021 “when he became the subject of a targeted campaign to destroy his reputation, his education, and his connections to the UNC community,” according to the complaint filed in US District Court in February.

Doe alleges that four female UNC students engaged in a “premeditated and coordinated” campaign against him. One of the accusers “admitted that her actions in organizing the complaints against Plaintiff were intended to ostracize him from his friends, to have him excluded from his fraternity, and to have him lose his prestigious scholarship at UNC,” according to the complaint. Doe was a Morehead-Cain scholar at Chapel Hill.

“Plaintiff has been shunned and cancelled by most, if not all, of his friends and peers at UNC, his reputation has been permanently destroyed, his scholarship was revoked, he was excluded from his fraternity and his apartment and, most critically, he has been permanently expelled from the entire University of North Carolina System,” Doe’s lawyers wrote.

Doe says he was found “not responsible for any policy violations” related to two of the complaining students. He was found “not responsible for most of the charges” involving a third student. Yet “the reporting parties succeeded in what they set out to do.” Doe “has suffered immense, compounding, and irreparable harm since the University accepted the complaints, without question, in the spring of 2021.”

“The University permitted the reporting parties to weaponize UNC’s Title IX process,” according to the complaint. Doe blames university investigators, the school’s Title IX Coordinator, the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office, the Emergency Evaluation and Action Committee, and hearing panel chairs and members. They “not only failed to ensure that the investigatory and adjudicatory processes were fair and objective, but rather contributed to the defective, prejudicial, and arbitrarily inequitable processes that were replete with gender bias against Plaintiff.”

The university expelled Doe. It barred him permanently in spring 2022 from reapplying to the Chapel Hill campus or applying to any other UNC campus, “derailing his educational goals and career aspirations, and permanently tarnishing his name and reputation,” according to Doe’s lawsuit.

“As a result of the Defendants’ unlawful, unfair, gender-biased, and improper conduct, Plaintiff was subjected to disciplinary processes that failed to comport with the University’s promises to Plaintiff as an enrolled student, the tenets of Title IX, and principles of good faith and fundamental fairness,” according to Doe’s complaint.

The most recent legal sparring in the case has involved the venue. UNC officials have filed paperwork seeking to have the case moved from North Carolina’s Western District to the Middle District.

Doe lives in Burke County, located in the Western District. The university sits in Orange County, located in the Middle District.