Doe v. Oberlin Case Returned to Lower Court After Title IX Investigation Closes

In 2017 and 2020, two “John Doe”s separately sued Oberlin College on the grounds of gender-based discrimination in the College’s Title IX investigations. While the cases involved similar situations and rested on similar arguments, they involved different students and administrators and are not a singular court case, as was incorrectly reported in The Chronicle Telegram on Feb. 16, 2023.

On June 23, 2017, a would-be rising fourth-year student — who had been expelled at the end of his third year — Doe #1, sued Oberlin College on grounds of gender-based discrimination in the College’s handling of alleged violations of Title IX against him in an investigation ordered by then-Title IX coordinator Meredith Raimondo and executed by Title IX officer Joshua D. Nolan. The student, referred to as “John Doe” in the court case, had been expelled Oct. 11, 2016 after being found guilty of sexual assault because “Jane Doe” had said that she “was not sober,” which was interpreted by the panel as insufficient consent.

Doe v. Miami was a similar gender-based discrimination case decided in 2018 that was argued successfully due to the fact that the male plaintiff, “Doe,” had been investigated for Title IX allegations when “Roe,” a female student, was not investigated for her conduct in the situation. The court ruled that Miami University had wrongly convicted Doe because a panelist at the hearing applied “affirmative consent” to the situation, a higher standard of consent than the one outlined in the University’s Title IX policy. This argument became known as “erroneous outcome.”

In the Doe v. Oberlin case filed in 2017, Doe #1 did not allege that Roe should have been investigated as proof of gender based discrimination, but instead cited outside scrutiny into Oberlin’s Title IX policy: comments made by Raimondo that specified believing female survivors and statistics that every Title IX case that went to a formal resolution process in the 2015–2016 school year led to at least one charge of guilt against the accused student.

The case was dismissed on March 31, 2019, because the court ruled that Doe #1 had not provided sufficient evidence that there was a pattern of gender based discrimination in Oberlin’s handling of Title IX cases, nor evidence of gender bias in the specific proceedings of his case.

Doe #1 appealed the dismissal, and on June 29, 2020, an appellate court ruled that gender bias could be argued from “significant procedural irregularities” in the handling of Doe #1’s case. The case was settled in mediation, from which no legal precedent can be established, on Dec. 14, 2020.

Thus, the case filed in 2017, based on an incident occurring in Doe’s third year in 2016, was concluded in 2020 and became Doe v. Oberlin (2020). It will be referred to as such for the remainder of the article. The second case, filed in 2020, will be referred to as Doe v. Oberlin (2023), due to the date of the most recent decision.

On March 20, 2020, a College second-year student, known as “John Doe” in the case, who will be referred to as “Doe #2” in this article, filed a case separate from Doe v. Oberlin (2020) against Oberlin College, Title IX Coordinator Rebecca Mosely, Title IX investigators, Designated Reporters, and the College’s Board of Trustees. Doe #2 filed in the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas, asking for a temporary restraining order against the College to stop a formal Title IX investigation against him.

The district court, which handles issues regarding federal law, took over the case on March 30, 2020. On April 7, 2020, the court dismissed Doe v. Oberlin (2023) “without prejudice,” meaning that the case could be retried in the future because gender-based discrimination could not be determined from the evidence provided. Doe #2 had not proven that there was a pattern of gender-based discrimination in Oberlin’s Title IX investigations, nor had he proven discrimination in his specific situation.

At that point, the Doe v. Oberlin (2020) case had been dismissed and was awaiting appeal, so it could not be used to show a pattern of bias in Oberlin’s Title IX investigations. As of April 7, Oberlin’s investigation of Doe #2 had not ended, so a key means of proving gender based discrimination using Doe v. Miami’s “erroneous outcome” argument could not be found.

On May 5, 2020, Doe #2 filed an appeal. The appellate court decided to return parts of the case to a lower court Feb. 14, 2023 because Oberlin had concluded its investigation into Doe #2 and found him not guilty. The court ruled that because the investigation had closed, a lower court could now rule whether or not gender-based discrimination occurred. Previously, the court had dismissed the case because it was too early to know whether or not Oberlin College would find Doe #2 guilty.

Doe v. Oberlin (2023) is now able to be tried in court or mediated.