News Story

U of M’s Office Of Institutional Equity Is In Court For Due Process Violations

‘The accused shall enjoy the right ... to be confronted with the witnesses against him’

A federal court last week ordered the University of Michigan to provide a hearing for a male student accused of sexual assault. The student claimed in a June lawsuit that his due process rights were violated by the school during the ongoing investigation, since he was not given a hearing with a chance to question his accuser.

On March 20, 2018, a female student filed a complaint with the university’s Office of Institutional Equity alleging that the male student, listed as “John Doe,” sexually assaulted her in a dorm room in November 2017. During the ensuing investigation, Doe maintained the sex was consensual, and both students said they were acquaintances prior to the encounter and continued to speak afterward.

Doe had been on track to graduate in April 2018 and was accepted to several graduate school programs, including one at the University of Michigan. On April 19, the university informed Doe it had put a hold on his student account, which meant he could not receive a copy of his transcripts while the investigation was in progress. He also faced potential expulsion.

Doe filed a lawsuit in June alleging that the university’s policy, which doesn’t allow a hearing in cases involving sexual misconduct, “created an environment in which decision-makers at the University are explicitly and implicitly biased against males accused of sexual assault.”

U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Tarnow in June ruled that the university must release Doe’s transcripts. Another ruling from Tarnow last Friday granted Doe a limited hearing in the ongoing investigation. During that meeting, Doe will be able to submit questions to his accuser through a resolution officer. Tarnow’s ruling only applies to Doe’s case, so the university’s existing policy doesn’t have to change.

“Defendants essentially ask the Court to sit back and wait for the investigator to issue findings against Plaintiff [Doe] before intervening in this action,” the court ruling says. “But, at this very moment, the University may be denying Plaintiff due process protections to which he is entitled. The Court cannot, and will not, simply standby as the fruit continues to rot on the tree. This case is ripe for adjudication.”

“Because of the University’s method of private questioning through the investigator, Plaintiff has no way of knowing which questions are actually being asked of Claimant or her response to those questions,” the ruling continues. “Without a live proceeding, the risk of an erroneous deprivation of Plaintiff’s interest in his reputation, education, and employment is significant.”

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald declined to comment, citing the pending nature of the litigation.

The University of Michigan’s handling of sexual misconduct cases has repeatedly been brought to question within the last several years.

U-M was one of many universities under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education in 2014 for its handling of sexual assault complaints, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. One notable case occurred when University of Michigan football player Brendan Gibbons was expelled in Dec. 2013 for an incident that reportedly occurred in Nov. 2009.

In another case, the university reversed its findings that student Drew Sterrett was responsible for the sexual assault of a female student, after he sued it for violating his due process rights. The university had suspended him, and he later dropped out because of the accusations and ongoing investigation, but the university had not held a trial, let him have access to a lawyer during questioning, or provided any written charges against him.