The John Doe Settlement
By Chandler Harrison As of 4 February 2016, the case John Doe v. Washington and Lee University was settled with prejudice in the U.S. District Court in Lynchburg. The motion to dismiss the civil case came after “the parties having compromised and settled all matters in controversy between them.” In response to the settlement, Washington and Lee released a statement attesting that the University officials “did not conduct a gender-biased investigation” and that the University’s Title IX coordinator had “discharged her obligations professionally at all times in this matter.”
For John Doe, in addition to monetary compensation as retribution, he also insisted to be readmitted into Washington and Lee. In order to further John Doe’s anonymity, neither side could confirm or deny if John Doe will be returning to Lexington.
Anonymity is vital in this case and represents another factor for John Doe to accept a settlement. If the case were to go to trial, scheduled for 22 April 2016, the likelihood of John Doe remaining anonymous would be nearly impossible. And such allegations, guilty or not, would forever tarnish his name; this being an inevitable consequence that no amount of retribution could wipe away.
This case encompasses the potential issues that might stem from private institutions internally investigating sexual assault on campuses. While law enforcement may have similar difficulties in accessing these sexual assault cases, they have fewer confounding variables that affect an administration’s protocol. According to a Roanoke Times article, “at least 110 lawsuits” nationwide have been filed claiming that their institution’s internal-investigation of sexual assault cases were “biased or otherwise flawed,” further propelling a potential flaw for in-house investigations.
While the settlement represents the resolution of this individual case, we all have to consider the gravity of W&L’s assessment of the investigation versus that of Judge Moon’s opinion. W&L released a statement on 5 February 2016 that “its officials adhered to its policies and procedures” for dealing with sexual misconduct allegations. Coupled with Judge Moon’s memorandum opinion that stated, “a reasonable fact finder could plausibly determine that Plaintiff (John Doe) was wrongly found responsible for sexual misconduct and that this erroneous finding was motivated by gender bias,” is troubling news to all male students. An unbiased third-party Judge determined there was serious merit behind gender-biased claims, despite W&L’s claimed strict adherence to “policies and procedures” administered by Lauren Kozak, the University’s Title IX Coordinator, and others. While I respect the administration for continuously supporting the actions of its faculty in this case, Judge Moon’s opinion clouts the reliability of W&L’s sexual misconduct cases as unbiased processes.
Could there then be a potential flaw in the procedure to determine guilt or innocence? How can W&L modify the system to ensure protection of sexual assault victims as well as provide the accused with an unbiased trial? While this settlement represents a resolution, these questions remain unresolved.