Title Nine
April 14, 2017

Student Who Says He Attempted Suicide During Title IX Investigation Sues Cornell

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Cornell University is being sued by a male student who claims the University discriminated against him on the basis of sex while investigating him for sexual misconduct.

The pseudonymous plaintiff, James Doe — a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences — is suing in part to recover damages for emotional distress. The student says Cornell’s investigation caused him to attempt suicide.

The suit, filed in federal court on Tuesday, comes nearly four months after Cornell lost a similar case in January. In that case, a Tompkins County Supreme Court judge ruled that the University was “arbitrary” and “capricious” in refusing to investigate a male student’s claim that a a Cornell Title IX investigator discriminated against him based on his sex.

This decisive court loss was not the end of Cornell’s complicated relationship with Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education.

In early February, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights opened a sixth Title IX investigation into Cornell, making it the University with the most active investigations of any in the country. One month later, participants in an open forum held by the Office for Civil Rights investigators harshly criticized the University for its handling of sexual misconduct complaints.

And with another Title IX lawsuit hitting the University’s desk Tuesday, the topic has once again come to the fore.

Court documents say that the events motivating the suit occurred in September 2015, when Doe and his accuser, Sally Roe, met at a party. At one point during the night of the party, Doe and Roe went to Doe’s bedroom together, the suit says.

While there, Roe allegedly beckoned Doe to his bed, where she “pinned him down” and made sexual advances, making Doe uncomfortable, he says in the lawsuit. When the male student asked Roe to stop her advances, he tried to push her off his body, the lawsuit says, after which Roe allegedly punched Doe’s testicles. Roe admitted to doing so, according to the suit.

Doe saw a doctor nearly one month after the punch “due to chronic, continuing pain in the testicles and concern about permanent injury,” he says in his complaint.

Roe’s reply to Doe’s allegations is not in the court record as of publication.

The day after the party, Doe learned from the president of his fraternity that Roe was accusing Doe of choking and raping her in violation of Cornell’s Code of Conduct. Later, Doe filed his own complaints against Roe, under both the Code of Conduct and University Policy 6.4. Then, Roe filed another complaint against Doe, this time under 6.4. The Code of Conduct complaints went to the Judicial Administrator’s office, while the 6.4 complaints went to Title IX investigators.

On Nov. 23 — over a year after Roe and Doe accused each other and after both were done exercising appeals — an appellate panel of last resort found Doe responsible for sexual misconduct under Policy 6.4 and found Roe not responsible.

Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi sat, ex officio, on the panel, and he informed Doe of the panel’s findings, according to the student’s complaint.

The panel also struck down Doe’s original sanction — indefinite suspension — in favor of probation and a requirement that he complete both a consent education course and an assessment by CAPS. The panel made his no-contact order with Roe permanent as well, Doe says in the suit.

As for the Code of Conduct complaints, Judicial Administrator Michelle Horvath in November found both Doe and Roe not responsible.

Doe’s lawsuit concerns the events between the night of the party and the University’s final decisions. He is seeking relief in part for emotional distress he says he suffered because of the University’s “fatally flawed” investigation, which was “afflicted by an anti-male discriminatory bias” and “Kafkaesque.”

To demonstrate the extent of his emotional distress, Doe says he was diagnosed with severe anxiety and major depressive disorder after Cornell issued an interim suspension.

His mental state worsened, according to the complaint.

Last spring, the day Doe was notified of his second suspension, he tried to commit suicide, he says in the suit.

*  *

Doe makes many of the same allegations against the University that were aired in the OCR focus group. Notably, he alleges that the University violated its own policy by failing to complete its investigation within 60 days. The University allegedly took more than twice as long, 135 days.

Doe also alleges that neither the J.A. nor the Title IX investigators conducted an adversarial hearing as part of its fact finding, allegedly violating New York law that requires accused students to have “at a minimum … an opportunity to … present evidence and testimony at a hearing.”

At the heart of Doe’s complaint, however, is his Title IX allegation that the University’s investigator discriminated against him on the basis of his sex.

Part of Doe’s argument is that, while the University was investigating Roe’s complaints of sexual misconduct against Doe, it allegedly was hesitating to investigate the similar complaints filed by Doe against Roe.

A judge said in May 2016 — nearly seven months after Doe made his accusations against Roe — that Doe’s complaint had gone “wholly disregarded” by the University.

This alleged disparity led Doe to claim the University discriminated against him on the basis of his sex.

He also says Title IX investigators dismissed witness testimony that contradicted Roe’s testimony because the witnesses had “formed opinions of [Roe’s] behavior before speaking to the investigator.”

Roe’s witnesses were treated much more favorably by University investigators, Doe says.

He claims that Jody Kunk-Czaplicki — the University’s acting Judicial Administrator when Doe’s complaint was processed — temporarily suspended Doe based on testimony from three of Roe’s friends, none of whom were eyewitnesses. At the time of the suspension, only one of Doe’s friends, who also was not an eyewitness, had been interviewed, according to the complaint.

Likewise, Doe claims that Roe never received a temporary suspension, though he did.

The suit also names as defendants Kunk-Czaplicki and Elizabeth McGrath, a Title IX investigator who investigated Doe’s case. Neither Kunk-Czaplicki nor McGrath currently serves in those roles.

The University has confirmed that it no longer employs McGrath, but it declined to say when and why McGrath left the post.

On March 29, the University posted a job opening for a Title IX investigator.

As for Kunk-Czaplicki, the suit alleges that she — “incredibly” and without consulting Doe or his attorney — redacted important information contained in Doe’s petition to the University that contradicted Roe’s testimony.

The complaint claims Cornell displayed anti-male sex discrimination — prohibited by Title IX — and that it violated both the 14th Amendment in denying Doe due process and the New York State Education Law, among other things.

  • Disappointed alum

    Not surprising. Students work their whole lives to get to a university like Cornell, and if they’re suspended they worry that their future is in jeopardy, that no job will want them. Cornell doesn’t take that into consideration when they suspend students lightly, with no actual evidence.

  • Scrooge McDuck

    Ah the lifestyles of the rich and privileged hahaha

  • Scrooge McDuck

    “she’s a man eater!!!” hahaha

  • Scrooge McDuck

    nothing like a woman scorned … right jab left jab to the balls haha

  • Apparently it’s not sexism if it’s directed towards men!

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  • Melissa

    It’s not sexism when men are on the receiving end of this treatment. It’s justice (according to Title IX administrators).

    Men are treated as guilty by default. Guaranteed Cornell will settle this so there’s no record, no trial, no reason to change.

  • angry alum

    Where’s all the people saying there’s so sort of rape culture now? Do they even bother to pretend to give a shit about equality anymore? And why the hell does this stuff ever go through a university kangaroo court, as if colleges were their own states or countries?

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  • Rape culture is what women say for victim status and get free handouts!

    • Cornell ’06

      How many people do you pay to troll for you? You can’t possibly spend as much time on the internet as your comment logs would require.

      And, you clearly have never been a woman. Men of course, can be raped by women, though much more often, men (and boys) are raped by other men or other boys. Sexual assault is rampant in human cultures, and it effects everyone. Problem is, we’ve internalized it so deeply that it is hard to change it. But denying rape-culture exists is to deny the reality that humanity is deeply hurt, and mysogyny is the culprit. You are hurt by it, and so are women.

      It’s really pathetic that you use women, as pawns in your efforts to increase your fame. As a gay man, you have a whole lot of internalized hate. I’m sad that there is so much contempt in your heart. You are not engaging in dialogue, you are engaging in rhetoric. You and your white-supremacist cronies. It’s pathetic, ugly, and it’s dangerous. I hope you try counseling and can change your life to actually do good for others not just stole the fires of ignorance and resentment from your high-tower of entitlement, far from the people you harm. Right now Milo, your nothing more than a right wing carrier-pigeon. They own you and you do their bidding like the servant that you have become.

      • Suzanne freed

        Do you have a son? As a mother of 3 boys, I am much more concerned to send my boys to college than my daughter. Title IX is a system set up to defend the girls and there are mulitiple falsely accused young men’s and these women are ruining their lives for person “hangover guilt” the morning after. The universities are helping to create this culture. The same people are the judge and jury, young men go into these kangaroo courts and cannot have anyone speak for them, they are on their own. You have 19 year old boys who are their own attorneys, evidence not allowed if it will incriminate the girl. Universities would much rather have lawsuits against them from the accused rather than the accuser- the publicity would be much more damaging. Please do research and see a common thread across the US. You won’t believe this is actually happening. This is a disservice to the women who are TRULY RAPED.

  • Hello

    This happens to men all the time, but big media refuses to report on it.

  • ockie milkwood

    With all my soul, I hope “James Doe” collects millions, no, billions, raising the tuition of the each and every member of the Sun staff, making them tangibly suffer for their lobotomized political correctness. Heil!

    PS. These lib fascists have banned me without letting me, or you, know. Heil!

    • Cornell ’06

      Who is paying you to raise the white supremacy flag? Maybe you should go back to Europe if you are trying to hold some nationalist identity, because this countries identity is a melting pot, with people of all beautiful colors. Don’t forget white folks are not naturally Americans. We are the illegals who pirated and pillaged ancient civilizations with no care or understanding of what came before us. Have you read “And Indigenous People’s History of the United Stares” yet? That might be a good place for you to start. What do you gain by being so ignorant and callus? You say “heil”? The sickness of hate will eat away at you. I’m so sorry that you feel such low self-worth that you feel racism is your only way to be valuable. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and open your heart. There is so much more about the world than you could ever learn with an isolationist, hypocritical, so-called white-supremacist lifestyle. You are either literally a bot for the fascists, or so lost in your soul that you would forgo your brain for the sense of belonging, no matter how sad and pathetic the thing you belong to. Step back, read up, and try again. Here’s some place to start:

  • ockie milkwood

    PS.BTW, I graduated Cornell Cum Laude, was on the Sun staff and editor of the lit magazine, belonged to Mensa, and am a highly-paid, board-certified medical specialist. Am not a loser like you, Sun staff. You, Sun, staff, are cretinous amateurs and despicable losers. You will get eaten alive by the “real” world when you graduate, as is perfectly appropriate.

  • Be kind

    Nice article, we’ll written! So sad about the male’s attempted suicide. NEVER something to brush off lightly. Hope Cornell looks at all cases of power based personal violence equally and tries to change the culture. It would be great if they could set a new trend on campuses.

  • Disappointed alum

    “Hope Cornell looks at all cases of power based personal violence equally”
    In effect, Cornell’s actions in this case amounted to power-based violence against the male. Not physical violence, but a robbing of his future.

  • Karen

    Very impressed a journalist at the Cornell Daily Sun bravely covered a controversial subject. As an alum, I have been following a similar story about the 2015 case of the senior who was refused his diploma after being falsely accused. I told the school I can’t donate again until they clean up their act. If accusations are made, call the police, gather evidence, go to a judge and prosecutor. English major posing as Title IX investigators are not qualified to gather evidence and decide guilt and innocence.

  • Disappointed alum

    Totally agree, Karen. Cornell called just yesterday asking for money, and I’ve been disappointed in Cornell but didn’t know what to say. Now I do: “I can’t donate again until they clean up their act.”

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