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Court rules Miami may have discriminated against male student in sexual assault case

A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of a male Miami University student who claims the university discriminated against him when he was suspended for sexual assault.

A three-judge panel on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the student had presented "a reasonable inference of gender discrimination" in Miami's disciplinary process.

The decision, filed on Feb. 9, partially reverses a district court's decision to dismiss several claims against Miami and university officials, while upholding several of the lower court's dismissals.

The case surrounds a September 2014 incident when the defendant and a female student, referred to in the case as John Doe and Jane Doe, engaged in sexual activity after both students had been drinking. Initially, the sexual activity was consensual, according to Jane's statement, but she alleges that John continued to engage in non consensual acts after she had stopped consenting.

However, John claims he was too intoxicated to remember what happened that night after Jane had gotten into his bed.

Jane did not report John but discussed what had happened with her friends, one of whom reported it to their RA, who informed supervisors about the incident.

An Administrative Hearing Panel heard the case on Oct. 7, 2014, and found John responsible for violating the university's sexual misconduct policies.

John was initially suspended from the university for eight months but, on appeal, his suspension was reduced to four months. When Miami's appeals process affirmed their original ruling, John filed suit on Sept. 15, 2015 against Jane, Miami University and several university officials involved in the disciplinary process, including OESCR director Susan Vaughn, who served on the Administrative Hearing Panel.

John voluntarily dismissed his claims against Jane, and the two reached a settlement, though he still pursued his claims against the university.

The Feb. 9 decision does not conclude that Miami violated Title IX or made decisions with an anti-male bias. However, the decision asserts that either may have happened, reversing the district court's previous dismissals.

"Discovery may reveal that the alleged patterns of gender-based decision-making do not, in fact, exist," wrote Judge Karen Nelson Moore in the decision. "That information, however, is currently controlled by the defendants, and John has sufficiently pleaded circumstantial evidence of gender discrimination."

According to the decision, John asserted that every male student accused of sexual misconduct in the Fall 2013 and Spring 2014 semesters was found responsible by the university.

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John also referenced his own case as evidence of gender discrimination, since the university initiated an investigation against him but not Jane.

The appeals court upheld several of the dismissals made by the district court, including John's Title IX hostile-environment and deliberate indifference claims.

"While several claims in this case were dismissed, we are disappointed that others were not," said university spokeswoman Claire Wagner of the decision. "What hasn't changed is that Miami University has been and remains committed to a fair and impartial student disciplinary process and denies any bias in in that process."