In a motion filed last month, a women’s rights legal organization, along with two law firms, alleged that a former UC Santa Barbara student who was sexually assaulted in 2015 was not informed that her Title IX case was reopened — a situation one of the lawyers says speaks to the larger issue of due process in Title IX cases and could affect cases of a similar nature going forward once the court makes it decision in July.
The three groups – Equal Rights Advocates, Public Counsel and Steptoe & Johnson LLP – argue that the student, known known in court documents as Jane Roe, was not notified when her Title IX case was reopened nor given the opportunity to present her own arguments, according to Brenda Adams, senior counsel for Equal Rights Advocates and the lead lawyer in the case.
According to the motion, Roe was assaulted by a UCSB student, referred to as John Doe in court documents, during September 2015 at the beginning of her sophomore year. Shortly after the assault, Roe filed a police report with the Santa Barbara Police Department according to the motion, as well as a Title IX complaint one year later.
In August 2017, the Title IX office found Doe responsible for sexually assaulting Roe in 2015 and in violation of the UC’s sexual misconduct policies, according to the motion. In November 2017, the university sanctioned Doe with a three-year suspension and ruled he would be allowed to return in November 2020.
Doe subsequently filed his petition to vacate the Title IX findings in January 2018, according to the motion. When he filed his petition to vacate the Title IX office’s findings in 2018, which was heard by the superior court, the court approved his petition and dismissed the findings in April 2019.
In the latest motion filed on June 9, Adams argues that the superior court only heard evidence from John Doe and the university when Doe filed his petition, but not from Roe or Roe’s lawyers. In addition, Roe had no knowledge that her case had been reopened nor that the superior court had ruled to vacate the Title IX office’s findings, according to Adams.
”This is really not about Jane Roe. This is about all of the survivors out there who are completely left out of this process,” she added. “I’ve actually never heard of a situation in which they have included and notified the survivor.”
Adams said this case speaks to the larger issue of due process and the misrepresentation of survivors in Title IX cases, of which there have been at least 600 lawsuits filed on behalf of accused students in attempts to overturn their respective schools’ findings of sexual assault.
“I can absolutely say that the reason victims are left out of these cases is because the assailant or the accused person does not include them in the lawsuit,” Adams said. “So it is quite ironic to me that respondents in these cases are crying out for due process and then simultaneously robbing survivors, like our client, of the same in these cases.”
Roe’s motion is set to be heard in July, she said, but the other parties, Doe and the university, have a chance to respond to the motion before it is heard by a judge. Adams said she expects Doe to oppose the motion but is unsure if the university will follow suit.
“A big question will be whether the school will oppose our motion,” Adams said. “We would hope that the school would agree with us, that all students who are involved in these cases are entitled to notice of these filings.”
The university declined to comment.
Mark Hathaway, who represents Doe, did not respond to multiple requests for comment but provided to the Daily Nexus a copy of Doe’s opposition to motion to vacate, which was filed on June 18 in response to Doe’s previous motion to vacate.
The opposition to motion to vacate alleges that the UC Regents “failed to provide a Title IX process that complied with California law” and argues that because neither Doe nor Roe are currently UCSB students, the matter is “moot” and does not require anymore administrative proceedings.
In July’s hearing, the judge will decide whether or not to grant Roe’s motion, which could reverse the superior court’s previous decision to vacate the Title IX findings, Adams said.
If the judge doesn’t motion to vacate, Doe’s petition will stand and he would remain absolved from the Title IX findings. But if the judge does motion to vacate, Doe’s petition would be void and the original Title IX findings against Doe would stand.
All parties — Doe, Roe and UCSB — will have the chance to appeal the judge’s upcoming July decision.
The result of any motion to appeal, from either party, has the potential to set legal precedent; the decision could determine how future cases define “real parties in interests,” which is a term used to describe a person or entity who will be impacted by the outcome of legal action even if they are not explicitly defined as a party in the case, Adams said.
Should the court of appeals rule “that all survivors are real parties in interests who are entitled to notice of petition filings” and legal action, a new precedent could be set, which would mandate that all survivors in Title IX cases be included in future cases, Adams said.
Had Roe been included as a real party in interest, Roe would have been notified when Doe filed his petition and when the court vacated the Title IX findings, Adams said.
In a statement to the Nexus, Roe described how she felt excluded from the legal proceedings that voided the responsibility of sexual assault from her assaliant and emphasized the importance of changing the legal landscape to uplift — and include — the survivors’ voices.
“Being excluded from the court’s legal proceedings made me feel like my voice had been completely taken away. It felt like the court didn’t care about my experience, and was just handing over the power and narrative of my story to my attacker,” Roe said. “I had no way to defend myself.”
“It’s been about 5 years since my assault, and it feels ridiculous that I’m still fighting for my voice to be heard. But it’s important for me to know that I am also fighting for the rights of other survivors as well,” she said. “That’s why I want my story to make a difference.”