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A lawsuit that challenges Harvard’s compliance with anti-sex discrimination law Title IX will proceed after a federal court ruled Friday to deny the University’s efforts to dismiss the suit.
The Mass. district court decision is the latest development in a suit Alyssa R. Leader ’15 filed in February 2016 arguing that Harvard responded with “deliberate indifference” to her sexual assault complaint. Harvard challenged Leader’s case in a series of filings this summer, and the court has now struck down three of Harvard’s four primary arguments.
The suit centers on a sexual assault complaint that Leader filed while a student at the College. According to court documents, Leader initially filed a sexual harassment complaint in 2015, alleging that a male undergraduate, “John Doe 1,” sexually abused her during and after a dating relationship. In her lawsuit, she argues that the University did not properly respond to the complaint and violated Title IX.
In its legal filings, Harvard responded by arguing that the University did not respond to the allegations with “deliberate indifference” as Leader’s suit claimed, and in fact took the requisite steps to investigate her complaint. The University moved to throw out Leader’s arguments.
But the court denied Harvard’s motion to dismiss the Title IX claim after considering the months of continued harassment Leader allegedly endured when she first reported Doe’s sexual harassment to Harvard officials.
While the court grants that Harvard may have “met its initial Title IX obligation to respond to Leader’s complaints of sexual harassment,” the ruling concludes that “Leader has sufficiently alleged that Harvard’s subsequent actions failed to stop the post-reporting harassment.”
The court also struck down Harvard’s motion to dismiss a negligence claim, arguing that Leader demonstrated that she suffered injury from Doe’s continued presence in Cabot House, where they both lived. Still, the court did not rule on whether or not Harvard was negligent in the process.
“Whether Harvard’s response was negligent is not for the Court to decide at this stage, but for a factfinder to decide upon a fully developed record,” the ruling stated.
Harvard filed over the summer for several paragraphs from the suit to be struck from the record. But the court ruled that these segments, which point to a 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter and a 2014 Frequently Asked Questions document published by the federal government, provide relevant context.
But the ruling did uphold one of Harvard’s legal arguments. The court ruled in favor of dismissing Leader’s claim against the University for premises liability, which would mean that unsafe conditions on Harvard’s grounds led to harm, or increase the probability of harm.
Harvard’s compliance with Title IX has been under scrutiny before. 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 Claire E. Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ClaireParkerDC.
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