Student wins lawsuit over Boston College's mishandling of sexual assault claim

A student who sued Boston College over its mishandling of a sexual assault allegation against him won a $100,000 judgment. The case is considered legally significant because it is the first lawsuit to reach a jury since the Obama administration altered rules for adjudicating sexual assault allegations back in 2011.


The male student, known only as John Doe, was a senior working for the student newspaper in 2012. He was asked to cover an event involving a student group from the school gathered on a cruise ship. Inside Higher Education published this account of the underlying claim of assault that became the basis for the lawsuit:

According to Doe’s original lawsuit, there were more than 600 people on the ship, and the event was crowded. As Doe made his way across a dance floor on one of the decks, a female student, referred to as AB in court documents, turned around and began screaming at Doe. AB reported later that someone had digitally penetrated her anus with at least two fingers.

Confused by her and unable to hear her because of the loud music, Doe moved away from AB and toward a group of his friends, his complaint states. One of Doe’s acquaintances, JK, who had been walking in front of Doe during the incident, allegedly turned around and told him “Sorry, dude, that was my bad.” Doe did not understand the remark.

A few minutes after Doe reached his friends, security guards on the ship came and detained him until the ship docked. Massachusetts State Police then arrested Doe. Officers placed plastic bags on his hands to preserve any physical evidence on them and kept him in custody overnight after taking swabs of his fingers and clothes. He was subsequently charged with indecent assault and battery.

The Boston College Police Department was notified of the assault, and an officer filed a report on the incident that incorrectly stated Doe had been dancing with AB when he digitally penetrated her without permission. The officer’s report stated AB saw the person who assaulted her and knew who he was. This version of events was shared among university administrators.

Doe said in his complaint that JK had likely committed the assault, which would explain his comment to Doe the night of the incident. JK, who claimed not to remember speaking to Doe, texted him and his friends after the cruise to ask why Doe had been taken away by security. Doe and JK had a phone conversation after the cruise, which was recorded by a private investigator, during which Doe told JK about the woman’s allegations. JK’s response, according to the lawsuit, was, “What a bitch. What kind of girl goes to a dance floor like that and doesn’t expect to get touched or grabbed?”


Charges were eventually dropped against John Doe because a DNA test did not find any of the victim’s DNA on his hands. In addition, “surveillance footage of the ship revealed Doe was at least four feet away from AB when the assault likely occurred.”

However, the school rushed forward with its own internal judicial process without waiting for the police investigation to be completed. Doe was found responsible by the school and suspended for more than a year. He later returned and completed his degree.

Technically, the Title IX portions of the lawsuit were dismissed back in 2016, but an appeals court found that the school might have “infringed basic fairness in his case.” A spokesperson for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) told IHE, “The jury’s clear verdict here suggests that, as with so many situations involving both free speech and due process, universities are unable to defend in public what they try to do in private.”

The Obama administration introduced a “preponderance of evidence” standard into campus sexual assault cases in 2011. Sec. Betsy DeVos revised those rules two years ago.

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