Kaifeng Wu

Editor’s note: Yale University has since expunged this suspension for sexual misconduct from this student’s Yale College disciplinary record, and the student ended up graduating from Yale on time. Click here to learn more.

A junior suspended from Yale for two semesters for “groping” and “creating a hostile academic environment” filed a suit against the University earlier this month, alleging discrimination on the basis of sex.

Last month, the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct concluded that the plaintiff, referred to in publicly available case filings as John Doe, “engaged in improper behavior” with female students on three occasions, all while intoxicated, according to the court documents. Doe filed his suit against Yale shortly after the University reached a settlement with a student expelled for sexual assault in 2012. He is the fourth man to file a lawsuit against Yale alleging gender discrimination based on Title IX protections since the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct was established in 2011.

In September, two female students, referred to as Sally Roe and Jane Roe, filed complaints against Doe, within minutes of each other, alleging that Doe groped them on a charter bus traveling to the 2016 Yale-Harvard game in Cambridge, according to the lawsuit. One of the complainants alleged that the male student said to her, “I want to f— you,” as he groped her breast and buttocks. Student witnesses told the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct’s designated fact finder that, during the bus trip, Doe was extremely drunk and inappropriately touched and groped a number of women, the lawsuit says.

In her complaint, Jane Roe also alleged that, in June 2016, the two met at a mutual friend’s apartment for a party while they were independently studying abroad in Paris. Later that night, John Doe groped her while they walked along the street after they were denied entry to a Paris nightclub.

The University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct also heard evidence that Doe had acted aggressively toward women at a party hosted by the Fence Club at the Partners bar in 2016, according to the law suit. He was subsequently banned from attending Fence Club events.

In Yale’s memorandum in opposition to Doe’s motion, the University notes that Doe was highly intoxicated during all of the incidents in question. Still, Doe had not been disciplined by Yale before the complaints were field.

Asked to comment on the case and the plaintiff’s punishment, University spokesman Tom Conroy said the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct makes recommendations based on the specifics of each case, precedents set by previous cases and the respondent’s previous disciplinary history. But he did not comment further, saying that the University does not confirm or deny the existence of a University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct investigation. Conroy also declined to comment on Doe’s suit against the University.

In a written response to the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct’s panel report to Yale College Dean Marvin Chun, Doe wrote that in the fall of 2016 — at the time of the Fence Club party and bus trip — he was receiving alcohol-use counseling at Yale Mental Health & Counseling, the lawsuit said. He received counseling outside Yale the next semester and went home to New York on weekends. In fall 2017, he began weekly meetings with a Yale Health therapist and stopped drinking and attending parties.

Ultimately, Yale College Dean Marvin Chun approved the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct’s finding that Doe had violated Yale’s sexual misconduct policy by groping the women in Paris and on the bus to Cambridge and engaging in sexual harassment that created a hostile academic environment for one of the complainants. In addition to his two-semester suspension, Doe will be required to petition for readmission, receive sexual harassment training before or immediately upon his return to Yale and continue to receive alcohol counseling after his return to campus.

Doe appealed the decision to University Provost Ben Polak, who earlier this month upheld Chun’s decision to accept the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct’s findings.

With his lawsuit against Yale, Doe is seeking to have the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct decision reversed and the suspension removed from his educational file, to have his disciplinary record expunged, to destroy any record of the complaint, to earn immediate reinstatement and begin classes during the current semester and to receive damages. On Thursday, at a hearing at the Richard C. Lee United States Courthouse in New Haven, Doe will seek to have the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct’s findings and sanctions suspended so that he can remain in class while the lawsuit works its way through the judicial system, according to his attorney, Andrew Miltenberg.

Doe’s suit argues that, since the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights rescinded the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, which recommends the use of a preponderance of evidence standard in cases of sexual misconduct, Yale’s practices were “unfair and, ultimately, out of step with the goal of gender equity in Title IX-related proceedings.” Doe contends that Yale failed to conduct an adequate, reliable and impartial investigation of the complaints and that the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct should have convened a new hearing after it emerged that the complainants had communicated by text during University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct proceedings.

“We think there’s an argument to made that Yale’s evidentiary guidelines are unclear and to the extent that they needed to be made clearer — which is something we think Betsy DeVos’ withdrawal of the Dear Colleague Letter guidance has tried to achieve,” Miltenberg said. “People like John Doe in this case I think are somewhat of a hero. This is a Rosa Parks moment for certain people and not everybody that feels oppressed has the ability to litigate those cases.”

The court documents state that Doe was suspended just before he was set to begin the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy this semester. Because of the suspension, the documents say, Doe will also be unable to work at a Wall Street investment banking firm this summer. The complaint adds that Doe worked as a conservative columnist for the News. After he wrote a column in support of “a recent controversial gift” made to Yale, the lawsuit states, University President Peter Salovey wrote him a personal letter, expressing his appreciation for the piece. Salovey did not respond to request for comment.

The University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct fact finder reported that Doe felt animosity from both complainants’ friend groups because of his conservative political views, according to the lawsuit. The University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct fact finder wrote that, although Doe did not want to speculate on the complainants’ motivation for filing the complaints, he believed they disliked him because of his political leanings. The complaint also noted that the Yale-Harvard bus trip took place about a week after the election of President Donald Trump. Doe told the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct that he felt social isolation on campus because of his political beliefs and rejection by the students on the bus trip.

Doe is represented by William Bilcheck Jr. and Miltenberg — a well-known New-York based attorney who specializes in cases of campus assault and has advised about half a dozen students undergoing University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct proceedings.

Yale reported 82 complaints of sexual misconduct between January 1, 2017, and June 30, 2017. 

Hailey Fuchs | hailey.fuchs@yale.edu