A case against Dickinson College, involving a graduate who alleges the college mismanaged her sexual assault complaint, was moved to another location after the former Federal Judicial District Chief Justice who was presiding left his post to become the new college president.
The unusual circumstance was cited last month in a remand inquiry by Judge Jennifer Wilson of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Pennsylvania, who was handling the case.
In making the filing, Wilson noted that the Chief Justice of the Middle District of Pennsylvania, John E. Jones III, had announced his intention to step down from the bench to become the new president of Dickinson College.
This circumstance could lead reasonable minds to question the fairness of the case proceeding in Jones’ own place, Wilson wrote, thus requiring a referral filing which allows the parties involved to express their consent, or their consent. non-consent, to continue the case despite the apparent conflict.
On June 28, plaintiff Rose McAvoy’s case against Dickinson College was reassigned to Judge David Cercone of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
According to Wilson’s latest lineup, the case was due to be tried in March 2022.
McAvoy’s allegations against the college sparked protests in Dickinson in February 2020, leading to an agreement between student activists and the college to improve the school’s sexual misconduct investigation procedures.
In July 2020, McAvoy’s attorneys filed a lawsuit against Dickinson College, claiming that the college’s mismanagement of its sexual assault complaint created a hostile environment under Title IX, the federal anti- discrimination and gender equity required of schools that receive federal support.
Dickinson’s course of action represents neglect, willful indifference and breach of contract based on the college’s stated policies on sexual misconduct, according to McAvoy’s case.
The college requested that the case be dismissed, arguing that the steps taken to remedy McAvoy’s Title IX complaint were sufficient to avoid his legal claims.
In briefs filed late last year, McAvoy and the college did not offer significantly different accounts of the incident itself. McAvoy alleged that she was sexually assaulted in October 2017 by a student she knew through acting programs. Dickinson’s own investigation found the incriminated student responsible, according to the brief.
The issue of contention is what happened next. Lawyers for McAvoy argue that the college’s Title IX investigative process was unreasonably slow, lasting five months, during which a no-contact order between McAvoy and his attacker was improperly enforced.
McAvoy was unable to avoid seeing his attacker almost daily due to the college’s lack of supervision over dormitory schedules and assignments, his lawyers wrote; in one case, she had no choice but to come into close physical contact with him during a theatrical event.
Despite this, the college argued that McAvoy’s allegations did not amount to the college condoning harassment in a way that would be legally negligent or deliberately indifferent. The Title IX investigation has been completed and the college has acted in good faith to alleviate any distress for McAvoy, Dickinson’s lawyers say.
McAvoy’s complaint seeks to compel the court to require Dickinson to revise its Title IX policy, and also seeks damages up to and including reimbursement of McAvoy’s tuition and university fees, as well as compensation for the impact on his mental health.