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Doherty v. Emerson College

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 29, 2017

EMERSON COLLEGE et al., Defendants.



         Jillian Doherty sued Emerson College and Michael Arno, individually and as Emerson's Title IX investigator, asserting four claims: violation of Title IX against Emerson; and negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Emerson and Arno. Doc. No. 39. The claims arise from Emerson's response to a report by Doherty that she had been sexually assaulted on campus by another student. Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all counts, Doc. No. 101, Doherty has opposed, Doc. No. 111, and Defendants have replied, Doc. No. 115. The Court held a motion hearing on September 19, 2017. Doc. No. 123. For the reasons stated below, the Motion for Summary Judgment is ALLOWED. Defendants' Motion to Strike, Doc. No. 116, is DENIED AS MOOT.

         I. FACTS

         The Court describes the undisputed facts established by the record evidence and draws all reasonable inferences in Doherty's favor. When material facts are in dispute, the Court accepts Doherty's facts.

         A. Doherty's Report and Emerson's Initial Response

         Doherty entered Emerson College as a freshman in the fall of 2011. Doc. No. 103-2 at 4. She attended Emerson's orientation and received a copy of the student handbook. Id. at 5. The student handbook included information on Emerson's sexual assault policies, including safety measures, reporting violations, and the student disciplinary process; it also contained Emerson's alcohol policy. Doc. No. 103-6 at 5-6.

         Doherty completed her freshman year and went home for the summer. Doc. No. 103-2 at 14. She spent the fall semester of her sophomore year studying abroad as part of an Emerson program. Id. at 15. She returned to Emerson's campus for the spring semester. Id. at 15.

         At 1:00 AM on March 2, 2013, Doherty sent an e-mail to Robert Ludman, Dean of Students; Lee Pelton, President of the College; and Sharon Duffy, Associate Dean of Students, the relevant portions of which follow:

         To Whom It May Concern:

It has come to my attention that Emerson College has not taken significant action to protect the students of the Emerson Community. . . . I, as a member of the Emerson Community, demand that you and the college take immediate action to protect the students of this community. . . .
Also, I, too, have been raped on campus. I didn't say anything because I was too afraid, but the fact still stands that the statistics on rape and sexual assault at Emerson College are grotesque and severe. Please help us stop this.
Thank you for your time,
Jillian Doherty

Doc. No. 103-10 at 2. Doherty's e-mail was the first report she made to Emerson about the sexual assault. Doc. No. 103-2 at 18. Ludman responded at 11:04 AM the same day, about ten hours after Doherty's e-mail, offering support and advising Doherty of Emerson's resources that were available to her, including the Counseling Center, Center for Health and Wellness, and Campus Police. Doc. No. 103-10 at 2. Additionally, Ludman forwarded Doherty's e-mail to several administrators, including Arno and Alexa Jackson, Associate Vice President of Human Resources and Title IX Coordinator. Id. Jackson responded within a few hours to set up a meeting among the administrators to discuss Emerson's response to Doherty's e-mail. Doc. No. 103-11 at 2.

         Michael Arno was designated by Emerson to investigate Doherty's report. On March 5, 2013, he e-mailed Doherty:

Dear Jillian,
I hope this email finds you well. My name is Mike Arno and I work in the conduct office. I am contacting you today because Dean Ludman informed me that you reported being sexually assaulted on campus. I'm so sorry to hear that you had to experience this awful event.
Given the nature of the information you shared, I would like to invite you to meet with me. I would like to meet just to make sure you are doing ok and to make sure you are aware of the services at Emerson that can support you. It would be great if you could propose a time that is convenient for you to meet with me after you return from break. If you are around this week and would like to meet that would be great as well.
It is important to me and the College that we touch base, even if you wish not to share any details of your experience.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Mike Arno

Doc. No. 103-12 at 2. Doherty responded the next day, stating: “Thank you for reaching out to me. It means a lot that the Emerson community and faculty are being so supportive and responsive.” Id. She noted her availability, and Arno responded to schedule a meeting for the following week, on the first Monday after the school break. Id.

         On March 11, 2013, Doherty and Arno met in Arno's office. Arno explained to Doherty that, while she was encouraged to share the name of the assailant, [1] she was not required to do so. Doc. No. 103-2 at 20. Doherty shared the assailant's name with Arno, but said she did not want to pursue criminal charges or school conduct charges against him. Id.; Doc. No. 103-13 at 2. Doherty stated she did not feel threatened by the assailant. Doc. No. 103-13 at 2. She noted he was on a semester abroad and asked that Emerson meet with him before he returned to campus. Id. Arno reminded Doherty of the resources available to her at Emerson. Doc. No. 103-2 at 20.

         The same day, Arno sent Doherty an e-mail summarizing their meeting and asking her to confirm that the summary was accurate. Doc. No. 112 at 13. She responded with two clarifications-the spelling of a witness's name and an additional detail-and confirmed that the meeting notes were otherwise accurate. Id. at 13-14; Doc. No. 103-2 at 21. Arno confirmed with Doherty that she did not feel threatened by the assailant at that time and that she was comfortable with the assailant having guest access to her dorm. Doc. No. 103-2 at 21. He also informed her that Emerson would begin a Title IX investigation, id., and that a Stay Away Directive would be put in place between Doherty and the assailant, Doc. No. 112 at 15. Arno forwarded his meeting summary to Ludman and Jackson. Id.

         B. Emerson's Title IX Investigation

         On March 26, 2013, Arno met with Doherty to update her on the status of the Title IX investigation. Doc. No. 103-2 at 22. He confirmed that Doherty was willing to cooperate in the investigation and explained Emerson's student conduct disciplinary process. Doc. No. 112 at 15. He verified that Doherty felt safe on campus at that point and that she believed she would feel safe when the assailant returned to campus. Id.

         The next day, Doherty sent Arno two Facebook conversations, the first from April 16, 2012, in which the assailant invited Doherty to his room, [2] and the second from April 26, 2012, in which Doherty confronted the assailant.[3] Doc. No. 103-7. Doherty told Arno that one of the assailant's roommates had seen her and the assailant after the incident, but that she could not remember the witness's name. Doc. No. 112 at 16. Arno e-mailed Doherty to set up a time to look at photographs of the assailant's roommates at the time to identify the witness; she subsequently reviewed the photos and identified the individual she recalled seeing. Id.; Doc. No. 103-2 at 23.

         On April 12, 2013, Arno e-mailed Doherty to update her on the investigation and confirm that he would interview the individual she had identified. Doc. No. 112 at 16. He notified her of the date on which he planned to inform the assailant of Doherty's report and the pending investigation, and said he would meet with the assailant when he returned to Boston the following week. Id.

         Arno contacted the assailant on April 15, 2013, informing him that a report had been made about his conduct and asking to meet when he returned to Boston. Id. The assailant responded that he would be in Boston for only one day, on April 17, 2013. Id. On that date, Arno met with the assailant and gave him a copy of the Stay Away Directive, which prohibited the assailant from communicating with Doherty and barred him from entering Doherty's residence hall. Id. at 17. Arno also sent Doherty a Stay Away Directive. Id. The assailant left campus for the semester after meeting with Arno. Id.

         On April 19, 2013, Arno e-mailed Doherty to tell her he had met with the assailant, that they had a “positive” conversation, and that the assailant had left campus for the semester. Doc. No. 103-22 at 2. Arno wrote a summary of his investigation and shared it with Ludman and Jackson. Doc. No. 112 at 17. Arno questioned the veracity of Doherty's account of the events because Doherty's own witnesses, according to Arno, did not seem to support her account, [4] and, although the assailant did not deny the event, he claimed not to remember it. Doc. No. 103-24 at 2. Arno ultimately determined, after consulting Jackson, that a conduct hearing was warranted. Doc. No. 112 at 17-18.

         C. The First Conduct Board Hearing

         On April 24, 2013, Arno e-mailed Doherty to inform her that Emerson had decided to move forward with a conduct board hearing. Id. at 18. He told her the hearing would be scheduled after finals, at the start of May. Id. The same day, Doherty called Arno and said she had incorrectly identified which one of the assailant's roommates had seen her and the assailant after the incident. Id. Doherty identified a different roommate as the witness, and Arno interviewed that person. Id.

         The following day, Doherty contacted Arno to identify her friend as another witness, identified for purposes of the investigation as Witness 5. Id. at 19. Arno tried once to contact Witness 5 to request a meeting, but Witness 5 did not respond. Id. Doherty later asked Witness 5 to reply to Arno. Id.

         On April 29, 2013, Arno sent Doherty a summary report of the meetings the two had about the incident and asked her to confirm the document was accurate. Id. at 19. Doherty sent no corrections. Id. The next day, Arno met with Doherty to discuss setting a hearing date. Id. He allowed her to choose between a Skype hearing over the summer or an in-person hearing in the fall. Id. Doherty said she preferred a Skype hearing. Id. Shortly after her finals, Doherty flew home to California. Id. at 20.

         On May 2, 2013, Arno wrote to Doherty offering dates for the hearing. Id. On May 10, 2013, he sent her an e-mail confirming the planned date of May 17, 2013, and attaching information about the conduct board hearing. Id. The attachments notified Doherty that the hearing would proceed according to the Special Conduct Board Procedures for Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Harassment Complaints. Id. The attachments also explained Doherty could notify Emerson if she did not wish to participate in the hearing; Doherty informed Arno that she wanted to participate. Id. The three members of the Conduct Board were identified in the attachments, which informed Doherty she could object to the designated members. Id. Doherty raised no objections. Id.

         Arno attached a copy of his Title IX investigation report to his May 2, 2013 e-mail, id. at 22, along with a letter from David Haden, the Associate Dean and Director of Housing and Residence Life, id. at 21. Haden's letter informed Doherty that she could have an advisor, including an attorney, work with her before the hearing and attend the hearing with her. Id. Doherty chose not to have an advisor present for the hearing. Id. Haden's letter also advised Doherty that she should provide the names of any additional witnesses she wished to present at the hearing. Id. Doherty provided no other names. Id. Haden encouraged Doherty to meet with him before the hearing if she had any questions. Id.

         On May 13, 2013, Arno e-mailed Doherty to confirm that, during the hearing, Doherty would communicate with the assailant through the Board Chair, and to explain that Doherty could write down any questions she had for the assailant, and the Board Chair would read them aloud. Id. at 23. Arno confirmed that Doherty was comfortable with that procedure. Id.

         On May 15, Witness 5 contacted Arno to provide her witness account. Id. Arno interviewed Witness 5 and, on May 16, sent Doherty and the assailant an updated Title IX investigation report that included a summary of the new interview. Id.

         The Conduct Board hearing was held on May 17, 2013. Id. at 24. Doherty participated by Skype from California. Id. She did not request any disability accommodations for the hearing. Id. at 25. The Board consisted of three members, David Griffin, Seth Grue, and Tikesha Morgan. Id. at 24. All three were Emerson Administrators who had participated in previous student conduct board hearings, including some involving allegations of sexual harassment or sexual discrimination. Id. at 24. Morgan was a trained Title IX investigator, id., although Doherty disputes whether her training was adequate, id. at 25. Griffin served as the chair. Id. at 26.

         Before the hearing, the Board received a copy of Arno's investigation report, including an update after his interview with Witness 5. Id. Arno sent Griffin a script to follow at the hearing, based on Emerson's Special Conduct Board Procedures for Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Harassment Complaints. Id. at 26.

         Doherty and the assailant signed confidentiality statements and presented facts supporting their positions. Id. During the hearing, the Board read a statement from a female student that included a personal reference for the assailant; Doherty interpreted the statement as a personal attack on her. Id. at 26-27. Arno summarized his investigation report during the hearing without providing his opinion on whether the assailant was responsible for a policy violation. Id. at 28. The hearing lasted approximately one hour. Id. Doherty and the assailant each were given the option to submit a final statement in writing after the hearing, or to deliver a final statement orally. Id. Doherty chose to make an oral statement. Id.

         D. The First Decision and ...

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