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Doherty v. American International College

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 31, 2019



          TALWANI, D.J.

         Plaintiff Elisabeth Doherty, who alleges that she was raped while she was a student, brought this action against Defendant American International College (“AIC”). AIC's Motion for Summary Judgment [#41] is now before the court. After review of the parties' arguments and the evidence presented, AIC's motion is ALLOWED.

         At the outset, the court notes what this case does and does not address, and the framework within which this case must be decided. The complaint does not assert claims directly against Doherty's assailant, and is not an appeal of AIC's decision on such claims. Instead, the suit asserts that AIC violated Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681-1688, by failing to respond promptly and appropriately to her report that she was sexually assaulted. On summary judgment, the court assumes that Doherty was indeed raped by her fellow student, but nonetheless must decide the federal claim for damages from AIC in the context of the purpose and scope of Title IX.

         Title IX provides, in pertinent part, that “no person . . . shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a). Title IX's primary purpose is “to prevent recipients of federal financial assistance from using [federal] funds in a discriminatory manner.” Gebser v. Lago Vista Indep. Sch. Dist., 524 U.S. 274, 292 (1998). Although Title IX does not expressly provide a private right of action, the Supreme Court has held that Title IX's legislative scheme contains the landmarks of an implied private remedy for offending discrimination. See Cannon v. University of Chicago, 441 U.S. 677, 717 (1979).

         Unlike Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., Title IX does not explicitly provide for monetary damages. The Supreme Court has recognized that monetary relief may be available in limited circumstances. See Gebser 524 U.S. at 287 (“Whereas Title VII aims centrally to compensate victims of discrimination, Title IX focuses more on ‘protecting' individuals from discriminatory practices carried out by recipients of federal funds.”); Id. at 292 (“Until Congress speaks directly on the subject, . . . we will not hold a school district liable in damages under Title IX . . . absent actual notice and deliberate indifference.); see also Davis v. Monroe Cty Bd. of Educ., 526 U.S. 629, 643 (1999) (“We consider here whether the misconduct identified in Gebser-deliberate indifference to known acts of harassment-amounts to an intentional violation of Title IX, capable of supporting a private damages action, when the harasser is a student rather than a teacher. We conclude that, in limited circumstances, it does.”). Accordingly, a damages recovery against the college is available only when such a remedy will not “frustrate the underlying purpose of the legislative scheme, ” Cannon 441 U.S. at 703, namely in cases in which the funding recipient was deliberately indifferent to known acts of discrimination.

         With this framework in mind, the court proceeds to the facts in this case.

         I. Factual Background[1]


         Doherty was a student at AIC from August 2012 through 2014. Def.'s Rule 56.1 Statement (Def.'s SOF) ¶ 1 [#43]. During this time, the college had written policies which prohibited sexual assault, and provided a procedure for reporting incidents and a disciplinary process for resolving sex discrimination complaints against students (hereinafter, “Title IX Policies”). Id. ¶ 2. AIC provided its Title IX Policies and alcohol policies to its students. Id. ¶ 11. At the time in question, Nicole Cestero was the Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Title IX Coordinator at AIC and Mathew Scott was the Dean of Students and the Deputy Title IX Coordinator. Id. ¶¶ 4, 7.

         During her junior year, Doherty was living in a dormitory on campus (“the Dorm”). Id. ¶ 12.

         August 30, 2014

         In the early morning hours on Saturday, August 30, 2014, Doherty was in her suite with several other students, including, “Respondent, ”[2] an AIC student who lived on Doherty's floor. Id. ¶¶ 13, 15. After Respondent left the suite, he sent Doherty a text message asking if she wanted to come to his room “to chill.” Id. ¶ 16. Doherty agreed to go over. Id.

         While she was in his room, Respondent took Doherty's clothes off her and raped her while Doherty pleaded with him to stop. Id. ¶ 18. Def.'s SOF Ex. 27 (Hearing Transcript) 3:14-4:17, 5:15-17 [#43-42]. Doherty tried to make noise but was unable to because Respondent pressed his body on her face. Pl.'s SOF ¶ 20 [#52]; Hearing Transcript 4:16-22 [#43-42]; Def.'s SOF Ex. 8 (Investigation Report) 2 [#43-23]; Def.'s SOF Ex. 9 (Doherty's Written Statement) 2 [#43-24]. At some point during the incident, Respondent got off Doherty, during which time she was able to put back on her clothes, fight off his efforts to grab her, and run out of his room. See Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Rule 56.1 Statement (Pl.'s SOF) ¶ 18 [#52] ¶¶ 21- 27 [#52]; Hearing Transcript 5:14-20 [#43-43]; Def.'s SOF Ex. 1 (Doherty Dep.) 57:4-20 [#43-1].

         Doherty woke up her suitemates, and told them that Respondent had raped her. Pl.'s SOF ¶ 29 [#52]; Doherty Dep. 58:12-59:7 [#43-1]; see also Investigation Report 9 [#43-23]; Doherty's Written Statement 3 [#43-24]; Def.'s SOF Ex. 10 (JK Statement) [#43-25]; Def.'s SOF Ex. 11 (EM Statement) [#43-26]; Def.'s SOF Ex. 12 (SD Statement) [#43-27]. Approximately twenty minutes later, Doherty went with her suitemates to the Campus Police and reported the rape. Pl.'s SOF ¶ 30 [#52].

         The Campus Police contacted Cestero, who arrived on campus within 30-45 minutes. Id. ¶ 31-32. The Responding Officer secured the Title IX Victims' Rights form from Doherty and written witness statements from Doherty and her suitemates. Id. ¶ 31. Cestero explained her role as Title IX Coordinator to Doherty and offered her water, a blanket, a professional counselor to speak with, and another place to rest. Cestero also informed Doherty that there were services available to her, including the College's counseling center and off campus resources. Id. ¶ 33. Cestero asked Doherty for a verbal statement, which Doherty provided. Id. ¶ 32. Cestero explained to Doherty her Title IX rights and reviewed the Victims' Rights form with her, and informed Doherty that she could file a formal complaint though the College's Title IX procedure and press criminal charges with the police. Id. ¶ 33.

         After meeting with Doherty, police officers went to Respondent's room and transported him to the Campus Police station for an interview with the Police Chief and Cestero. Id. ¶ 38. Respondent denied raping Doherty. Id. The Chief gave Respondent a trespass notice and Respondent left campus with his mother.

         The ensuing week

         A couple of days after their initial contact, Cestero called Doherty to check on her well-being and advised that they should remain in touch. Id. ¶ 39.

         On September 3, 2014, Doherty informed Cestero that she had decided to proceed with a formal complaint against Respondent. Cestero answered various questions that Doherty had about the College's complaint process and informed her that because the College could not completely trespass him until the outcome of the investigation, Respondent would be permitted on campus only to attend classes and football practice.[3] Cestero explained that Respondent would be prohibited from contacting Doherty for any reason in any manner, and that the College would provide her with needed support. Id. ¶ 41. The next day, Respondent was verbally informed of the formal complaint against him and told he was to have no contact with Doherty. Id. ¶ 43. The College issued him a written no contact/no trespass order, alerting him that a violation of the order would be grounds for his immediate removal and potential dismissal from the College. The College made Doherty aware of the order and its terms. Id. ¶ 44.

         September 8-9, 2014

         On September 8, 2014, [4] Doherty reported to Campus Police that she saw Respondent walk into the Dorm. Campus Police immediately went to the Dorm to try to find Respondent and serve him with a new trespass notice. Campus Police were unable to locate Respondent but continued to make periodic checks of the Dorm and ensured that all Resident Hall Assistants were informed. Id. ¶ 45. Campus Police also went to the football field and spoke with the Head Coach, who stated that Respondent was not there. Id. ¶ 46.

         Doherty emailed Cestero that same day, stating that she was upset about having seen Respondent entering the Dorm, and asking Cestero to confirm the details of Respondent's no contact order “ASAP.” Id. ¶ 47. Cestero responded the next morning and confirmed that Respondent was only permitted to be on campus to attend classes and football practice; he was not permitted in the dormitories. Id. ¶ 48. A few hours later, Cestero sent Doherty another email that Respondent stated to Cestero that he would not be returning to AIC for the fall semester. Id. ¶ 49.

         Cestero mailed Respondent an updated no contact/no trespass order to his home out of state. Id. ¶ 50. The order prohibited Respondent from entering any AIC dorms pending the investigation and reminded him that a violation of the order would be grounds for dismissal from the College. Id. ¶ 50.

         After that, Doherty never saw Respondent again. Id. ¶ 51.

         Interim Accommodations

         In accordance with its Title IX Policies pertaining to victims of sexual assault, AIC provided Doherty interim accommodations, including academic accommodations and counseling services. Id. ¶ 40. When Doherty resumed taking classes and returned to classes a few days later, she was provided counseling from the on-campus counseling center. Id. ¶ 52.

         The Investigation, ...

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