Federal judge denies injunction in UNC sexual assault lawsuit

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  • A federal judge has rejected a preliminary injunction in an expelled University of North Carolina student's lawsuit against the school. The former student, identified as Jacob Doe, argues that the university botched a sexual assault investigation against him.
  • Doe failed to "identify any direct evidence of gender bias" in his case to warrant a preliminary injunction, wrote US District Judge William Osteen.
  • Osteen has allowed Doe to proceed with his lawsuit using a pseudonym. An earlier court order blocked UNC from releasing information about the disciplinary proceedings tied to the lawsuit.

A federal judge has rejected an injunction for an expelled University of North Carolina student who says the university botched a sexual assault investigation against him.

The student is pursuing the lawsuit under the pseudonym Jacob Doe.

“Plaintiff raises multiple specific allegations about what he characterizes as procedural defects resulting from gender bias against him,” wrote US District Judge William Osteen in an order Thursday. “Though Plaintiff plausibly alleges that he was subjected to several procedural irregularities throughout the course of UNC-CH’s Title IX process, Plaintiff’s allegations ‘fall short of clear evidence that [he] is likely to prove at trial that the alleged errors made by the Hearing Officer and Appeals Officer were the result of gender bias.’”

“Plaintiff fails to identify any direct evidence of gender bias,” Osteen added. “He does not allege any specific comments or statements made by UNC-CH administrators that could create an inference of gender bias.”

“As indirect evidence of gender bias, Plaintiff provides a history of UNC-CH’s recent Title IX program changes and external influences, including the national media scrutiny UNC-CH has received in the past decade regarding its poor responses to Title IX complaints,” Osteen wrote. “Plaintiff also alleges facts about the Department of Education’s investigation of UNC-CH, the resulting Title IX violations it found, and the fine UNC-CH paid as a result.”

“However, Plaintiff does not specifically allege that this context results in UNC-CH implementing, practicing, or permitting a gender-biased Title IX adjudication process presently or as to him specifically,” the judge added.

Osteen initially rejected Doe’s request for a preliminary injunction at a Feb. 26 hearing in Greensboro. Doe had asked the judge to prohibit the school “from releasing or disclosing any information concerning the disciplinary proceedings that are subject to this lawsuit,” according to a court order linked to that hearing.

Yet Osteen granted Doe’s request to “proceed under a pseudonym.” The university can “fully respond and challenge that order.”

While Doe proceeds under his assumed name, “Defendants are prohibited from releasing or disclosing any information concerning the disciplinary proceedings that are the subject of this lawsuit, and that non-disclosure provision extends to all individuals over whom Defendants exercise control,” according to the court order. Osteen did not extend that order to  “any media outlet or third party as to what they are or are not prohibited from disclosing.”

Doe’s suit claims UNC violated Title IX and 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 complaint 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 originally filed in US District Court in February 2023.

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.