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Campus Sexual Assault Title IX

Case Summary: Doe v. University of Denver

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Case Summary: Doe v. University of Denver

No. 19-1359 (10th Cir. 2021)

 Christian Cooper

Juris Doctor Candidate

Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University

Brief Factual Summary

During John Doe’s (“John”) first year at the University of Denver (the “University”), he became romantically involved with Jane Roe. For months, the two discussed having sexual intercourse but never did so. The two also discussed being in an exclusive relationship, but John was not interested in dating Jane, and began to try to distance himself from her.

One night, an intoxicated Jane ran into an intoxicated John. Jane led John to her dorm room. The two kissed and touched each other. John could not recall what happened that night, but remembered that he and Jane took their clothes off and tried unsuccessfully to have sexual intercourse.

Jane and John dispute what happened the next morning. John said him and Jane had consensual sex, while Jane accused John of having sex with her without her consent. Jane decided to report what happened to her when she found out John told students of their sexual encounter. Jane admits that she made the report for this reason. John was not made aware of the specific allegations against him until the University issued a Preliminary Report of John and Jane’s encounter. The Final Report found John more likely than not engaged in non-consensual sexual contact with Jane. The University did not hear his appeal saying it did not meet the appeal criteria.

Procedural History

John Doe sued the University of Denver in the District Court of Colorado alleging violations of (1) Title IX, (2) procedural due process under the 14th Amendment, (3) breach of contract, (4) breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, (5) promissory estoppel, and (6) negligence. The District Court of Colorado granted Summary Judgment to the University on all claims. John appealed on the grounds that (1) there is clear evidence to create a genuine dispute of material fact as to his Title IX claim and (2) the district court erred in failing to analyze his Title IX claim under the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework.


John alleges the District Court improperly applied part three of the McDonnell Douglas summary judgment standard thus improperly granting summary judgment in favor of the University.


The District Court of Colorado improperly applied the McDonnell Douglas summary judgment standard.

If there is a one-sided investigation plus some evidence of sex bias, it should be up to a jury to determine whether sex bias exists.

Summary Judgment Standard (McDonnell Douglas) – See Doe v. University of Denver, No. 19-1359, at *13-14.

  1. John Doe has the burden of showing that his sex was a motivating factor in the school’s investigation and disciplinary proceeding
  2. If John clears that hurdle, the burden shifts to the University to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its decision.
  3. If the University succeeds, then the burden shifts back to John to show there is a genuine issue of a material fact as to whether the proffered reason is pretextual.

Applying McDonnell Douglas

  1. “John raised a reasonable inference that the University’s one-sided investigation establishes a prima facie case of sex discrimination. In other words, John has sufficiently shown evidence of differential conduct that plausibly was on the basis of his sex.” at *18.
  2. “[T]he University posits a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for its conduct: the University employees were bias against sexual-misconduct respondents, regardless of their sex.” at *19.
  3. “[The Court] assess[es] whether John has produced enough evidence to raise an inference that the University’s proffered explanation is pretextual – that is, covering up sex-based discrimination. We concluded that John has satisfied his burden [because of the one-sided University investigation plus evidence of sex bias.]”
    1. The University investigation was one-sided because:
      1. “The Final Report acknowledges Jane had chosen what pages of the SANE report to provide and had omitted potentially important exculpatory information[.]” Id. at *23.
      2. “[I]nvestigators interviewed eleven witnesses proposed by [the accuser] Jane but initially refused to interview all five witnesses proffered by [the accused] John.” Id. at *20.
      3. “In addition to Jane’s conflicting accounts of the alleged assault, the record reveals several examples of Jane making inconsistent statements about other matters to John, her classmates, and the investigators.” Id. at *21-22.
      4. “In fact, as [the accused] John points out, Jane told an array of inconsistent stories about the alleged incident . . . [a]nd none of [Jane’s] witness accounts completely align with the story [Jane] told investigators.” Id. at *23.
    2. The University was biased towards men because:
      1. “John does not simply raise the disparity in the gender makeup of the complainants and respondents. He also points to a number of other statistical [evidence] that raise at least a fair inference of anti-male bias.” Id. at *26.
      2. “First, John highlights that the University failed to formally investigate any of the twenty-one sexual-misconduct complaints brought by men from 2016 to 2018. In contrast, during that same period, there were about 105 complaints brought by women, fourteen of which were formally investigated by the University.” Id. at *26-27.
      3. “Moreover, from 2016 to 2018, the University received five complaints brought against a female. Four of those complainants were male and one was female. The University did not formally investigate the four male-initiated complaints but did investigate the female-initiated complaint.” Id. at *27.


“In sum, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to John, we are satisfied that a reasonable jury could find that John’s sex was a motivating factor in the University’s decision to expel him.” Id. at *29.

Significant Quote

“[W]here there is a one-sided investigation plus some evidence that sex may have played a role in the school’s disciplinary decision, it should be up to a jury to determine whether the school’s bias was based on a protected trait or merely a non-protected trait that breaks down across gender lines.” Id. at *29-30.