In Title IX Suit, Harvard Will Go To Court

Harvard will continue to fight a Title IX lawsuit that charges that the University reacted with “deliberate indifference” to an undergraduate’s sexual assault complaint, taking its arguments to federal court on September 21.

Earlier this year, Alyssa R. Leader ’15 sued Harvard, charging that the university had violated the anti-sex discrimination law Title IX when it responded to her sexual assault complaint. Leader’s initial filing details a sexual harassment complaint she filed with Harvard in 2015 against “John Doe”—a male College student—who Leader says sexually abused her during a “dating relationship” and subsequently stalked and harassed her in Cabot House after the relationship ended.

In a series of filings this summer, Harvard moved to throw out the case on the grounds that Leader’s claims do not entitle her to any legal recourse.

In turn, Leader’s attorney doubled down, filing documents opposing Harvard’s motions in early August and challenging many of Harvard’s arguments. While the University contended that it took a number of steps to investigate Leader’s complaints and provide her with support, Leader’s legal team countered that Harvard’s motion to dismiss “largely ignores the gravamen” of her allegations.

“In an attempt to misdirect this Court from the real issues, with respect to Ms. Leader’s Title IX claim, Defendant focuses almost exclusively on its initial response to Ms. Leader’s formal report of rape by Doe, and not on its response to her multiple reports that she was subjected to continuous, retaliatory harassment by Doe and his friends,” reads one of Leader’s attorney’s briefs.

Now at issue in the legal battle is whether the University fulfilled its obligation to investigate and respond to all complaints of sexual harassment and assault as required under Title IX. Harvard’s legal office declined to comment, and Leader’s attorney, Alex S. Zalkin, could not be reached.

In addition to the legal proceedings between the two principal parties, Wendy Murphy, an adjunct New England School of Law professor who specializes in Title IX, filed an amicus brief in the case on August 28. In it, she argued that the court must consider the case in a civil rights context, particularly one that understands women as a class.

“I have to assume the victim in this case would want to assert her strongest legal claims to full equality - but maybe I'm wrong about that. I suppose it's possible for a victim to want to be subjugated and treated as less than fully equal on campus,” Murphy wrote in an email. Zalkin, Leader’s attorney, did not consent to the brief. It identifies what Murphy believes are legal shortcomings in the initial suit.

Murphy wrote that she has filed similar briefs in other lawsuits around the country; she also filed a Title IX complaint against Harvard Law School in 2011. In 2014, the United States Department of Education found the Law School in violation of Title IX, and the College’s compliance with Title IX is currently under investigation by the federal government.

—Staff writer Andrew M. Duehren can be reached at andy.duehren@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @aduehren.

—Staff writer Daphne C. Thompson can be reached at daphne.thompson@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @daphnectho

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