First Title IX Trial Doomed By Jury Instructions

The lawyers defending Coastal Carolina University were proud enough of their win in the first ever Title IX trial, getting a defendant’s verdict, that they wrote it up within days for their law firm news.

Jim Gilliam and Hunter Freeman successfully represented Coastal Carolina University in a five-day federal jury trial involving Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. While plaintiff was a student at the University, a female student accused the male plaintiff of sexual assault. The University followed its policies in conducting an investigation and engaging in the student-disciplinary process. Ultimately, the student-disciplinary process found plaintiff in violation of the University’s policies and permanently dismissed the plaintiff from the University.

Following the plaintiff’s permanent dismissal, the plaintiff brought suit under Title IX, alleging the University engaged in gender discrimination in investigating and adjudicating the allegations of sexual assault. The University denied the plaintiff’s allegations and maintained that it engaged in its process in a gender neutral manner.

What’s missing from the recitation is that the male student, a football player, was found guilty by the college and expelled despite his being innocent.

“Both accuser John Doe and Jane Doe had drank small quantities of alcoholic beverages at the party; however, neither of them had been drunk or intoxicated,” court documents state. “After flirting back and forth throughout the afternoon at the pool party, John Doe and Jane Doe intimated to each other that they should go to Jane Doe’s nearby apartment and again engage in consensual sexual intercourse.

“While sitting at the pool’s edge and when Jane Doe was flirting with John Doe, he asked, ‘Do you want to go back to your room and (have sex)?’ Without hesitation or thought, Jane Doe responded affirmatively, while also expressing she could not be seen leaving the pool party with John Doe since she had a steady boyfriend.”

The female student nonetheless accused the male student of rape to the police, who determined that the accusation was false.

Conway police officers noted the woman’s behavior as “unusal that she was very casual, unconcerned about the incident,” the lawsuit states, and claiming she was “dragged in the parking lot area and near the stairs.”

After reviewing security footage, authorities found her account to be untrue, according to the lawsuit. She also “felt compelled to make the report because the cheerleading coach urged her to do so,” the lawsuit claims.

Contrary to the law firm “news,” so too did the Student Conduct Board, which exonerated the student. The female student appealed, and this time the university made sure the “correct” outcome was achieved.

As a result, the decision was reviewed a second time in March 2017 by the Student Conduct Board, this particular group consisting “only of a chairperson, and three faculty members, with not a single student member appointed, as required,” the lawsuit claims.

It also alleges Coastal Carolina provost and executive vice president J. Ralph Byington “simply did not like” the outcome of the previous decision.

The Mulligan?

“(John Doe) was familiar with (Jane Doe) was incapacitated and therefore unable to give consent.”

The case went to trial. How, one might wonder, could a case so strong, so obvious that the cops trashed it, the Student Conduct Board with actual students trashed it, not end in a verdict for the male students? At the conclusion of trial, the court instructed the jury on the law it was to apply to the evidence presented at trial. In most cases, the court uses pattern jury instructions, the official instructions prepared and approved based on statutory and caselaw, with the parties submitting their requests to tweak the instructions to suit the specific case before the court. Since this was the first Title IX Erroneous Outcome case to go to trial, it appears that the court was left to its own devices.*

Instruction No. 14
Plaintiff bases his lawsuit on Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX prohibits
colleges and universities from denying students access to educational benefits and opportunities on the basis of the student’s gender. For the Plaintiff to prevail against Coastal Carolina University under Title IX, he must demonstrate that Coastal Carolina University engaged in intentional gender discrimination against him. This means gender was either the sole reason or a motivating factor for the disciplinary actions Coastal Carolina University took against him.

Instruction No. 15
In this trial, the Plaintiff testified that a University official acted inappropriately towards him. Any alleged harassment is not grounds for liability in this case. For the Plaintiff to prevail against Coastal Carolina University under Title IX, he must demonstrate that Coastal Carolina University engaged in intentional gender discrimination in its disciplinary actions.

Instruction No. 16
Males are more often accused of sexual assault than females. Educational institutions cannot control the gender of the accused and the accuser. Plaintiff cannot show the University engaged in gender discrimination based on statistics alone. For statistical evidence to create an inference of discrimination, the statistics must show a significant disparity and eliminate  nondiscriminatory explanations for the disparity.

Instruction No. 17
When determining whether an educational institution committed a Title IX violation, judges and juries should refrain from second-guessing the disciplinary decisions made by school administrators. Title IX does not require federal courts to second-guess debatable administrative decisions. That is because administrative decisions are generally best made by the educational institution, and not a federal court. Neither this Court, nor the jury, is to decide whether the University’s disciplinary decisions were right or wrong.

With this series of instructions, there was absolutely no way, no evidence, short of the dean announcing that they were deliberately convicting and expelling a male student they knew was innocent solely because he was male, that the plaintiff could have proffered to prevail. The court essentially told the jury to disregard the proof, statistical, harassment and, most importantly, that the university “convicted” the plaintiff despite all evidence showing that he was innocent of any wrongdoing, but that the jury should not “second guess” the dean’s “administrative” decisions just because it was made despite the absence of evidence of guilt and with overwhelming evidence that it was wrong.

But the dean didn’t say out loud that the erroneous outcome was due to the plaintiff’s being male, and so he lost. The lawyers defending Coastal Carolina were no doubt proud of their victory, but given these instructions, there was no way they could have lost despite the fact that this was flagrant sex discrimination and an innocent plaintiff had his life destroyed so the school could show its students how strongly it supported its women, even when they were false accusers.

*Jury instructions courtesy of the indomitable KC Johnson, without whom most of this travesty would go unnoticed.

14 thoughts on “First Title IX Trial Doomed By Jury Instructions

  1. Vincent Morrone

    Is there any way to appeal the trial? I’m not sure how this works with a civil trial.

    1. SHG Post author

      Of course. You file a notice of appeal, pay your lawyers a small fortune to appeal, and then appeal. You really have to stop asking questions like this at a law blog.

      1. FA

        Some of the people here are students who have been dismissed by school and reading such blogs to understand how these work. Reading blogs that are well written such as this provides more certainty during a time when it feels like your entire world is turned upside down.

        1. SHG Post author

          Read all you want, but this is still a law blog for lawyers and judges and not a free lawyer Q&A site. Don’t make me “explain” it further.

        2. Sgt. Schultz

          Think of it this way: lawyers are talking and you get to listen. The alternative is you don’t get to listen. This isn’t about you or for you, so the question is whether you want to be able to read here or would you rather go elsewhere?

  2. B. McLeod

    Maybe the university official who put his thumb on the scale just hated the plaintiff for random reasons. Maybe he just didn’t want CCU to have any complaints that didn’t end with an expulsion. If this case is the standard for review, 100% expulsions actually becomes the safe play. At least if there is no due process requirement (and this court doesn’t appear to have concerned itself with that).

    1. SHG Post author

      As the charge suggests, it’s not CCU’s fault that only males are rapists, and they just favor the victim over the rapist. Kismet.

  3. Rengit

    That last sentence of Instruction 17… wow. Only a lawyer would understand that sentence any way other than “you must decide in favor of the defendant”, because how else would a layperson read a sentence that says they aren’t to determine whether administrate decisions were right or wrong?

    1. Bryan Burroughs

      Come on… The dispute is over a disciplinary decision, and the instructions said not to question disciplinary decisions. How is that bad? :p

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