At a preliminary hearing at Tompkins County Supreme Court on Wednesday, Judge Eugene Faughnan said Cornell’s policy guiding sexual assault investigation is flawed and should be amended.
Attorney Alan Sash, representing a client identified as John Doe, alleged at the hearing that Cornell University mishandled his client’s sexual assault claim because of his gender, calling it “shameful” that Cornell tried to get the lawsuit thrown out.
Doe’s lawsuit alleges that when he and another student, identified as Jane Roe, accused each other of sexual assault, Cornell’s Title IX coordinator, Sarah Affel, assigned a Title IX investigator to the case who was “biased and one-sided” and “abusive, insensitive and disrespectful to [Doe] during an interview.”
When Doe alerted Affel on Oct. 2 that he was filing a sex discrimination claim against the investigator, the Title IX office said the sex discrimination complaint would not be reviewed until the sexual assault investigations were complete, the lawsuit claims.
Doe claims that Cornell’s delay violates federal law mandating “prompt” investigations, in addition to University policy 6.4, which establishes guidelines for investigations of discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault and violence.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Judge Faughnan asked the Cornell representation why there was a delay in the investigation of the discrimination complaint.
“If a student uses a racial epithet against another, do we wait for the grade period?” he asked.
Cornell said the example was not an issue of discrimination, but of harassment, adding that handling the discrimination filing immediately would set a bad precedent and allow students to claim discrimination to circumvent policy.
Sash disagreed, saying a jury should know if an investigator is biased and adding that Cornell’s argument allows investigators to discriminate against students without consequence.
“Waiting until Jane Roe’s investigation was complete had no basis,” Sash said. “That was an ad hoc decision by Title IX staff.”
After hearing both arguments, Judge Faughnan said Cornell’s policy 6.4 is neither immediate nor direct, as it suggests, and should be updated. Faughnan also questioned why Cornell is arguing to have the case dismissed, adding that if the university was confident no discrimination took place, they should not be concerned with the lawsuit.