A UC Berkeley student is taking legal action against the UC Board of Regents in order to reverse a “groundless” suspension she received from the campus after she was found more likely than not to have violated Title IX policy.
On Feb. 27, a case was filed in the Superior Court of California, County of Alameda against the UC regents by a student facing two years of suspension, along with other sanctions, effective until May 2020.
The investigation into the plaintiff began after a former partner of the student filed a complaint against her. A second partner was interviewed, and after his testimony, the university opened another investigation of the petitioner.
According to the lawsuit, Ben Fils, a case manager and conduct coordinator with the Center for Student Conduct, determined that in both cases, there was a “preponderance of evidence” that the petitioner had violated the university’s Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment, or SVSH, Policy against stalking and sexual harassment, along with some provisions in the UC Code of Conduct related to harassment.
Fils also determined that in the original complainant’s case, the petitioner was found more likely than not to have violated a no-contact directive, although the lawsuit argues that the accused did not know of the directive at the time of the violation. At that time, Fils imposed sanctions against the petitioner.
Appeal hearing officer Barbara Dalton upheld Fils’ findings and sanctions in their entirety in the first case but reversed his findings that the petitioner had more likely than not violated the SVSH Policy by sexually harassing the man in the second case, despite maintaining the sanctions.
After this, the petitioner submitted a written appeal of Dalton’s decision regarding the second case to the chancellor, but a decision has not yet been made.
“We are committed to respecting the rights of respondents and complainants. The campus and UC system are currently reviewing our procedures in light of recent case law, and our position on any specific case will be expressed in our court papers and court presentations,” said UC Berkeley spokesperson Janet Gilmore in an email.
The lawsuit, however, claims that the campus’s investigative process was “biased” and “improper.” The petitioner was allegedly not given accommodations for her language barrier or documented health challenges, and the investigator allegedly did not utilize questions the petitioner provided or include evidence in the report that would have helped her case, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also said the campus’s procedures allegedly “violated Petitioner’s due process rights under California law because they failed to provide her with an evidentiary hearing or a neutral, independent factfinder.”
The university is currently modifying its adjudication process for Title IX proceedings to incorporate in-person evidentiary hearings. At the time of the petitioner’s case, however, no such hearing took place, and the attorneys of the accused are drawing on this argument for the termination of her suspension.
One of the results of her suspension is that the accused has not been able to receive a diploma from UC Berkeley although, according to the lawsuit, she has finished all of the necessary coursework. As a foreign national whose F-1 visa expires in July, the accused must apply for an H-1B visa in order to remain in the United States. The deadline to apply for the visa is April 1, and she needs to submit her diploma in order to qualify.
ASUC External Affairs Vice President Nuha Khalfay said that although every case is different, survivors should receive the “highest level of care.”
“Our adjudication process is long and very, very complicated,” Khalfay said. “It takes a lot for someone to be found guilty through the university process, and I will always believe survivors.”