A former student is suing the University, claiming her admission was rescinded after she was barred from campus without a full judicial process and faced allegedly unfair and sexist treatment from the University Police Department.
The former student is suing the University for violating Title IX, the federal anti-discrimination law, human rights and civil rights laws as well as for breach of contract, negligence, declaratory judgment and injunctive relief. UPD Chief RaShall Brackney is accused of violating the Title IX and civil rights laws, according to the complaint.
The female, identified as Jane Doe, filed the lawsuit in D.C. District Court Friday against the University and Brackney, claiming she was discriminated against based on her gender after she was barred from University property following a domestic dispute on campus that eventually led to Elliott School of International Affairs officials rescinding her admission.
“GWU’s flawed program and mishandling of Jane Doe’s case are symptomatic of a broader culture of inherent, systematic and intentional gender bias in favor of male students and against female students accused of misconduct,” according to the complaint.
University officials did not make the student aware that she had been barred until almost 20 days after the incident and did not tell her she could not use online University programs, the complaint alleges. The student should have received a “reasonable investigation” to comply with GW’s Title IX policies and “minimum” Office of Civil Rights standards, according to the complaint.
Title IX is a series of federal laws that protect students and others from gender-based discrimination. GW’s Title IX policies “assure all members of the university community that each complaint of sexual harassment will receive an adequate, reliable and impartial investigation,” according to the Haven website.
The female student is “entitled to compensatory damages” at an amount to be determined by a jury based on her emotional distress and loss of employment opportunities, according to the complaint.
Female and male students are unnamed in the suit to prevent “a risk of retaliatory harm,” according to the complaint.
This suit comes more than a year after an alumna sued the University claiming that for more than five years, officials did not respond to her complaints of being sexually harassed and therefore, violating Title IX.
University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar declined to comment on the suit, citing a University policy to not comment on pending litigation. Brackney also did not return requests for comment.
The female student’s attorney Jonathan Halperin declined to comment, citing his desire to maintain the victim’s anonymity. Her other attorney Paul Zuckerberg also declined to comment.
A disputed arrest
The female and male students met in November 2015 at a prospective student event for the Elliott School and began dating afterward. In March 2016, both students were accepted to a master’s program in the Elliott School.
The couple attended a welcome event April 8, 2016 for Elliott School graduate students and had a confrontation. A witness called UPD officers and both the man and the woman were taken into custody. The male student was let go after telling officers that the female student “had spilled coffee on him intentionally,” according to the complaint.
Despite the fact that the female student had “visible physical injuries” shown in police photographs following the altercation, the male student was not arrested and continued classes starting in the fall, receiving “disparate treatment by the University,” according to the complaint.
The male student persuaded police to release him, “falsely placing the entire blame on Ms. Doe” by making her seem like a “scorned woman out for revenge,” using statements he has since retracted, according to the complaint.
“If anyone should have been arrested on April 8th, 2016 it was Mr. Doe because Ms. Doe showed injuries consistent with physical abuse,” according to the complaint.
The document states a student witness saw UPD officers act “immediately and needlessly hostile toward Ms. Doe and used surprisingly aggressive tactics towards her.”
Superior Court Judge Diane Lepley found the female student to be innocent after her arrest, according to the complaint.
Three days after the arrest, the female student met with Nicole Campbell, the dean of graduate admissions at the Elliott School, who said “the incident would not affect her student status,” according to the complaint.
The student then met with Carrie Ross, the former assistant director for sexual assault prevention and response who left the office this January. The woman filed a Title IX complaint with Ross on April 22 against the male student, “alleging sexual harassment and sexual abuse,” according to the complaint.
Campbell did not return requests for comment, and Ross could not be reached for comment.
Three days after the student filed the complaint, Ross contacted Brackney, who said she had “exclusive authority” over the student’s status. Brackney said a barring notice was given to the student during the arrest, overriding Title IX officials’ decisions, according to the complaint.
An individual barred from the University cannot use GW facilities or step foot on University property, according to a UPD policy. The University has the right to bar any affiliated or non-affiliated person who “the university does not wish to allow access,” and a UPD officer can bar a person from campus based on observations and investigations, according to the policy.
Students who have been barred from campus must send a written request to the Office of the Vice President and the dean of students to remove the bar.
The female student alleges she never received a barring notice, and the document the student was supposed to sign when she received the notice had “HANDCUFFED” written on the signature line, according to the complaint.
The same day that Ross and Brackney allegedly spoke, Campbell contacted both students and wrote that the female student’s acceptance to the Elliott School program may be removed if she did not submit a statement explaining her conduct. The male student answered “blaming Ms. Doe for everything,” according to the complaint.
After responding to Campbell, the female student allegedly received an email from Ross informing her for the first time that there was an order to bar her from the University, and the student could submit a request to remove the bar, according to the complaint.
On May 2, Campbell encouraged the female student via email to set up an email account and log in to the University’s online portal Blackboard, according to the complaint. Campbell sent another email May 5 that said she learned of the barring and urged the female student to submit a statement to UPD, according to the complaint.
The female student submitted two requests to remove the barring notice that Brackney refused both times, allegedly “without any due process, in violation of Title IX and state law and was retaliatory,” according to the complaint.
The University officially rescinded the student’s admission July 22. Campbell emailed the student and said she violated the bar notice by using the University program electronically “despite clear communication that your admission status was being reconsidered,” and that the female student could not appeal the decision, according to the complaint.
The female student was never told to stop using GW’s online programs, according to the complaint.
“Ms. Doe was never given the opportunity, at any stage in the proceedings, to establish the material facts to support her contention that she (1) did not assault Mr. Doe (2) did not violate the barring notice, or (3) accessed the University web server without authorization – the facts which the University relied upon to terminate her from the program and bar her from the GWU neighborhood,” according to the complaint.