A former male student is suing the University, alleging he was found responsible for a sexual violence incident without strong evidence because the University was under “relentless pressure” to take a tough stance on Title IX cases.
A senior – who is unnamed in court documents – filed a 53-page complaint in D.C. Superior Court this month alleging the University violated federal Title IX laws and the D.C. Human Rights Act in its January ruling that he committed sexual assault in 2015. The student, who is referred to as “John Doe” in the complaint, claims that the University ruled in favor of the female accuser because it was receiving bad publicity and facing legal challenges for issuing lenient rulings and mishandling sexual assault cases.
The suit asks the court to strike Doe’s punishment from all University records and pay an unknown amount in compensatory and punitive damages.
“Doe” was found responsible for an act of sexual violence after a University hearing board ruled that he had a sexual encounter with a female – dubbed “Jane Roe” in court documents – in September 2015 when she was too intoxicated to consent.
Gillian Chandler, a junior, identified herself as “Jane Roe” in an interview with The Hatchet last week and refuted the claims made in the complaint. She maintained that she was sexually assaulted by the student in 2015 and said she was “disgusted” by the argument made in the complaint, which was “focused on undermining my credibility.”
“It’s humiliating having to read page after page of that suit, knowing that the faith the board and the school had in me was being overshadowed by this relentlessly cruel lawsuit,” she said in an email.
The complaint cites specific incidents, including a federal Title IX investigation of GW ongoing since last summer, a federal lawsuit filed in 2015 where an alumna alleged officials mishandled repeated sexual harassment during her time on campus and the high-profile effort last spring by a then-senior to expel her assailant from campus.
“The finding and sanction against John Doe are the direct result of the pressure upon GW, from multiple sources, to appear tough at all costs on sexual assault,” the complaint states.
Officials ruled that the male student, who had already completed all his coursework and was set to graduate last December, would not be allowed to get his diploma for a year, according to the complaint.
Doe alleges in the complaint that Chandler, who is referred to as “Roe” in court documents, changed her story on multiple occasions and initiated much of the sexual encounter.
“He has endured extreme emotional and psychological suffering as a result of the University’s one-sided treatment of the false sexual assault charges against him,” according to the complaint.
Attorneys for the male student, who declined to comment, said his client would also not comment.
University spokeswoman Lindsay Hamilton said GW received notice of the lawsuit regarding its handling of a Title IX complaint. Officials take accusations of sexual misconduct seriously and are committed to “fair treatment of all parties involved,” she said.
“It is important to note that a complaint filed in court represents only one side’s version of the facts and legal arguments,” Hamilton said in an email. “The University believes the lawsuit is without merit and will defend its actions in court.”
She declined to comment on the specifics of the allegations.
Doe states in the complaint that on a night in September 2015, during his sophomore year, he and a member of the rugby team attended a party the team was hosting at an off-campus townhouse. He said he approached Chandler, then a freshman, there after hearing her say to a friend, “I want to have sex with someone right now,” according to the complaint.
Doe said in the complaint that he then initiated a conversation with Chandler about their majors and mutual interest in religion and politics. Later, the suit claims Chandler asked him if he wanted to have sex. Chandler then called an Uber to take them to Doe’s residence hall, where they had “consensual sex” before she departed back to her residence hall, according to the complaint.
In October 2017, Chandler reported the incident to GW, charging that she had been too intoxicated to consent to the encounter.
The complaint states that in Chandler’s account of the incident, she only remembered certain details, including consuming several alcoholic drinks, feeling “groggy” in the Uber and seeing Doe’s name on his residence hall room door when she first entered his room. Chandler said she did not remember anything after entering Doe’s residence hall room and until she regained awareness while on his bed during the sexual encounter.
Chandler said in an interview and in statements cited in the complaint that after regaining awareness of the situation, she quickly left the room, hurried down the stairs and returned to her residence hall.
Doe alleges in the complaint that Chandler’s account of the night – including how she returned to her residence hall and whom she spent time with at the party – changed multiple times between her original complaint filed Oct. 30 and her testimony at a December hearing before a University hearing board.
The complaint charges that the amount of alcohol – 10 drinks – that she testified she drank that night would have put her “on the brink of death” from alcohol poisoning, according to an expert toxicologist brought in by Doe’s legal team.
Doe alleges that Chandler did not display any signs of intoxication that night.
Chandler said she had five shots of alcohol as well as jungle juice and beer at the party, but that she “was not on the brink of death.”
The suit also claims that Chandler’s account of her reaction to the incident changed. Chandler testified that she “ran back to [her] residence hall,” while she stated in her initial complaint to the University that she “walked… straight home” after the encounter, according to the complaint.
Chandler said the adrenaline of the situation – feeling “freaked out” about the encounter – helped her get home that night.
“I just put all my stuff together and ran out the door, and ran down the stairs,” she said. “It was like that fight or flight thing where I was ready to get out of there.”
Chandler said the assault affected her both “personally and academically.” She said she had to drop classes that she needed for her major both in the fall of 2016 and last fall to avoid seeing the student.
Hearing board decides
The University hearing board found Doe responsible for sexual violence Jan. 23, ruling that Chandler was “incapacitated” the night of the incident and prohibiting Doe from graduating for a year, according to the complaint.
Doe appealed the hearing board’s finding Jan. 30, including new evidence from the expert toxicologist. His appeal was rejected Feb. 15. for failing to meet University criteria that require new evidence that changes the facts of the case.
The suit argues that Doe’s punishment was influenced by a “pattern of unfair investigations and adjudications resulting in serious sanctions being imposed on male students” and enforced a “gendered” view of Title IX enforcement.
The suit seeks an unknown amount in damages, claiming that Doe will “suffer a permanent reduction in lifetime earnings” because he will not graduate on time, according to the document.
After the University hearing board processes concluded, and she began her study abroad program in London this semester, Chandler said she hoped she would be able to leave the case behind. But with the lawsuit pending, she said she worries that “everything I did will be for nothing.”
“All I ever wanted was for him to know that what he did was wrong, and to take responsibility for it,” she said. “I forgave him a long time ago. What scares me is that if he does win and get away with it, he can hurt someone else.”
Leah Potter and Dani Grace contributed reporting.