Diverse Docket: Title IX Suit Against Stony Brook Moves Forward

Updated Apr 7, 2016

Stony Brook University must defend a Title IX suit accusing it of deliberate indifference to the alleged sexual assault of a student, a federal judge in White Plains, N.Y., has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Nelson Román rejected the university’s attempt to throw out the case filed by a woman who claims a male student had unwanted forcible sexual contact with her after she’d been drinking at an on-campus party in January 2014.

The suit contends that campus police, the university’s Community Standards Office and others were hostile because the woman demanded a full investigation and disciplinary charges.

The male student was found not responsible after a May 2014 disciplinary hearing, the decision said.

The suit contends the woman suffered from flashbacks, physical pain and post-traumatic stress disorder and that such stress and emotional trauma resulting from both the attack and the university’s response adversely affected her academic performance.

Román’s decision noted that the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights investigated the SUNY system’s general handling of sexual assault and harassment issues in 2007-08 and 2010-11, specifically targeting four campuses, but not Stony Brook. Because of the investigation, SUNY signed a voluntary resolution agreement to remedy Title IX deficiencies.

However, the suit claims the agreement hadn’t been implemented at the time of the Stony Brook incident.

In his decision, Román said the woman alleged sufficient facts for her claims to continue. They include the failure of campus police to explain her options, the failure of administrators to notify professors of her “ongoing hardship” despite her request to do so, the length of time it took to complete the investigation, and the fact that her therapist wasn’t allowed to attend the alleged assailant’s disciplinary hearing to provide mental and emotional support.

The judge also found enough evidence to proceed on a claim that Stony Brook had shown systematic deliberate indifference to the general problem of sexual violence before the incident.

A jury could reasonably conclude that SUNY’s knowledge of a rise in the number of on-campus sexual assaults and its failure to remedy the deficiencies constituted deliberate indifference, Román said.

Appeal unsuccessful

A would-be medical student has lost an appeal in a suit accusing UCLA of racial discrimination in rejecting his application because he wasn’t proficient in Spanish.

The California Court of Appeal refused to reinstate the suit, ruling that the Spanish language proficiency requirement at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine “does not, on its face, qualify as an unlawful racial or ethnic preference.”

When Samuel Pierce applied in 2011, he had a 3.52 undergraduate GPA at the University of Pennsylvania and a composite MCAT score that placed him in the top 99.8 percentile, the decision said.

In 2013, while a UCLA law student, he met with the university chancellor to discuss his application to the medical school. The suit alleges that the chancellor made a verbal “enforceable agreement granting him admission” at their meeting and claims that UCLA violated the state constitution by using racial preferences in its admissions process.

A lower-court judge dismissed the case.

The appeals panel unanimously upheld dismissal of the suit in an opinion written by Justice Laurie Zelon.

The Spanish language proficiency policy doesn’t violate the California constitution “because it does not show partiality, prejudice or preference to any student on the basis of his or her race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin,” Zelon wrote.

“Contrary to Pierce’s assertions, persons of Hispanic ethnicity are not treated any more favorably on the face of the policy than persons of non-Hispanic origin. A Hispanic applicant who lacks proficiency in Spanish is not more eligible for admission than a non-Hispanic applicant who lacks such proficiency,” she wrote.

In addition, the decision continued, “A Hispanic applicant who is proficient in Spanish gains no advantage over a non-Hispanic applicant who is likewise proficient.”

The policy’s distinction in classification of applicants is based on language, not race, religion or national origin, the court said, and “language, by itself, does not identify members of a suspect class.”

Suit tossed

There is no evidence that race or national origin played a role in the termination of a former associate professor of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University Northwest, a federal judge in Hammond, Indiana, has ruled.

The decision threw out a suit by Dr. George AssibeyMensah, who was born in Ghana and joined the faculty in 1994. He lost his job in 2012 for sexually harassing female students as well as other misconduct, according to the university.

In 2000, a female undergraduate complained that Assibey-Mensah kissed her and called her “sweetheart,” an allegation he admitted. He received a paid suspension for the rest of the semester and was required to undergo sexual harassment counseling, the decision said.

In 2011, another female student complained that Assibey-Mensah asked for personal information, such as her marital status, and refused to give her material from a class she missed after she turned down his dinner invitation.

The same year, he admitted that he’d required all his students to complete a “familiarity form” with their marital status, disabilities, phone number and other personal information in violation of FERPA, and he acknowledged using that information to ask students to participate in a family business venture selling vitamin supplements and weight loss products.

The university said it also had concerns about the validity of some of his course evolutions and possible copyright law and fair use policy violations.

He was suspended but declined to withdraw his application for promotion to full professor, the decision said. He also failed to complete academic assignments and admitted delegating two of the assignments to a junior faculty member without attribution.

He sued the university under Title VII, Title VI, Section 1981 and Section 1983 alleging race, color and national origin discrimination and a hostile work environment.

U.S. District Judge Philip Simon dismissed the case because Assibey-Mensah “has no evidence that could rationally support a conclusion that racial or national origin animus motivated his suspensions or his termination. Instead, the record is replete with evidentiary support for multiple transgressions of university policy and otherwise inappropriate and unacceptable conduct.”

Simon said Assibey-Mensah also offered no evidence that similarly situated White American employees received more favorable treatment when accused of misconduct.