Court dismisses UC sexual harassment class-action suit

Alameda County René C. Davidson Courthouse
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The Alameda County Superior Court's René C. Davidson Courthouse handles civil and criminal court cases.

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Doe v. the Regents of the University of California, a class-action lawsuit involving students accused of sexual harassment, was dismissed by the Alameda County Superior Court on Thursday.

In 2018, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released her proposed changes to Title IX, which included “due process protections” for all students and the requirement of live hearings for formal sexual harassment complaints. Following these changes, in December 2018, an appellate court decision ruled that respondents have the right to cross-examine claimants, the right to a hearing in higher education and the right to evidentiary hearings for all requests.

Though the 2018 case concerned the University of Southern California, the ruling was then applied to all private and public higher education institutions in the state of California.

In response, the UC system changed its sexual violence and sexual harassment policy, which became the basis for this class-action lawsuit, filed by attorney Mark Hathaway on behalf of students disciplined under the university’s previous 2015 sexual harassment and sexual violence policy.

According to legal documents from the case, the class action is intended to represent all UC students who, under the university’s Policies Applying to Campus Activities, Organizations and Students regarding sexual violence and harassment, faced suspension or other serious punishments.

The class includes students whose cases specified credibility being central to investigation findings, and in which the questioning and cross-examination of claimants and witnesses were not provided by their university.

The class action represents the third amended petition for the case.

The court, however, took issue with the vagueness of the plaintiff’s definition of the class. Specifically, the court found that the “suspension or other severe sanction” portion of the class qualifications defines “severe” too vaguely.

In addition, the court took issue with the feasibility of absent class members’ ability to identify themselves as members.

The class action was dismissed on the basis that each case included in the suit has to be reviewed individually, according to Hathaway.

UC Office of the President spokesperson Stett Holbrook said in an email that the university is “pleased” with the court’s recognition of individual adjudications.

“The University of California is committed to providing a resolution process for sexual harassment that treats parties fairly and with compassion, and results in just outcomes,” Holbrook said in the email. “By dismissing the class claims, the court recognized the inherently individualized nature of each adjudication and the importance of evaluating the unique circumstances of each case.”

According to Hathaway, the ruling will be appealed.

Contact Blake Evans at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @Blake_J_Evans.