Appeal challenges the exclusion of campus sexual assault survivors from court proceedings after Title IX
April 21. 2021
For Immediate Release
Apr 21, 2021
Civil rights groups fight to ensure survivors’ voices are heard
On April 15, an opening brief was filed in an appeal challenging a California Superior Court decision that ruled against a campus sexual assault survivor and overturned U.C. Santa Barbara’s sexual misconduct finding in her case without involving her or even notifying her that the court process was happening. The appeal, filed on behalf of Jane Roe* by civil rights groups Equal Rights Advocates and Public Counsel, and law firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP, could be crucial to ensuring that California victims who file sexual misconduct complaints as students must be notified and involved in any subsequent court proceedings filed by the respondent (assailant).
When Jane Roe* was raped by a fellow U.C. Santa Barbara student in 2015, she used her school’s Title IX process to help her feel safe on campus afterward. The school’s thorough investigation resulted in the assailant being suspended for three years — enough time for Jane to graduate before he returned to school.
But in 2019, more than a year after Jane graduated, she was blindsided with the news that her assailant had taken the case to a California Superior Court two years prior without her knowledge. For over a year, the court received testimony and evidence about Jane’s sexual assault and Title IX complaint without even notifying her, let alone hearing her account of the incident or considering arguments in her favor. Unsurprisingly, the Court decided in favor of the assailant (John Doe), ordering U.C. Santa Barbara to throw out its original finding of sexual assault and potentially re-open the case.
Like Jane, most of the witnesses have graduated, and the Title IX investigator is no longer employed by the school. Additionally, new school policies responding to Trump-era Title IX regulations and new state requirements would subject Jane to a cross-examination about the sexual assault, re-opening a wound she thought had closed years ago.
Nationally, more than 600 similar cases have been filed against schools by Title IX respondents since 2013, asking courts to throw out schools’ findings of sexual assault. California has the highest percentage of these cases filed (18%), and this rising tide of litigation challenging schools’ Title IX findings is profoundly influencing California campus sexual misconduct adjudication procedures.
If superior court cases are allowed to proceed without notifying or involving the survivor, and California courts weigh only the interests of the accused and the university, the judicial precedent would be discriminatory, blatantly harmful to survivors, and undermine the purpose of Title IX. The appellant and her representatives are hopeful the Court will affirm survivors’ rights to advocate for themselves and fully participate in any court proceedings reviewing the outcomes of their sexual assault complaints.
The following are statements from co-counsel groups representing the appellant:
Brenda Adams, Senior Counsel for Equity Education and Litigation at Equal Rights Advocates: “Once again, survivors of sexual assault are silenced, dismissed, and ignored. While respondents cry out for due process, they simultaneously rob survivors like Jane of the same. We are fighting to ensure Jane’s voice and all survivors’ voices are heard.”
Amanda Savage, staff attorney with Public Counsel Opportunity Under Law: “The very basis of Title IX, equal access to education for students, is at stake in this case. In overturning the outcomes of a Title IX proceeding without informing the student survivor, it not only harms their educational rights, but it also has the potentially chilling effect of reopening trauma and ultimately making student survivors less likely to engage in this process.”
Robyn Crowther, managing partner Los Angeles, Steptoe & Johnson LLP: “Steptoe has a proud tradition of representing those who are excluded or underrepresented in the judicial system, and we are glad to participate in this important matter to ensure that victims of campus sexual assault and harassment receive notice of, due process in and access to judicial proceedings brought by the assailants seeking review of the school’s processes and decisions. We look forward to a full consideration of the issues by the Court of Appeal.”