Jane Doe v. The University of Kentucky

University of Kentucky Student Building with cannon out front

Sexual assault can derail and prevent women from obtaining an education.

To ensure access to education for women and girls, AAUW advocates for the full protections of Title IX. AAUW’s Legal Advocacy Fund supports this case to reform the sexual assault hearing process on campuses. Currently, alleged assailants have multiple opportunities to re-victimize survivors through the hearings process, under the guise of due process.

Case update: In August 2020, the U.S Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment and found that Doe may pursue her claims for discrimination and retaliation against the University of Kentucky. The district court granted summary judgment to the university in 2019, reasoning that Doe could not assert a Title IX claim against UK because she was not enrolled in UK classes, although she lived on the UK campus, took classes in UK buildings, and was enrolled in a program with a community college that created a bridge to transfer to UK. The Sixth Circuit reserved the district court, finding that Title IX calls for a less “rigid” approach and outlining Doe’s multifaceted relationship with UK. The Court found that “the sum of [Doe’s] relationships to the University of Kentucky,” allowed her to proceed with her Title IX claims because UK’s discrimination and retaliation may have “denied [her] the benefit of an education program or activity.” Doe’s claims were remanded back to the District Court, where the parties will continue to litigate the case.

On October 2, 2014, Jane Doe, a freshman enrolled in a dual enrollment partnership between Bluegrass Community and Technical College (BCTC) and the University of Kentucky, was sexually assaulted by another University of Kentucky student in her dorm room on the University of Kentucky campus. Jane Doe notified the university about the assault on the day it occurred.

On October 8, 2014, a university hearing panel found the accused student responsible and in violation of the university administrative regulation policy concerning sexual assault, stalking and relationship violence. At the hearing and after, Doe informed university officials that she was struggling academically in the aftermath of the assault; that she was experiencing flashbacks and nightmares; and that was considering quitting college. She was not referred to anyone who could arrange for academic support or accommodations. A few days after the hearing, due to her continued academic struggles and ongoing harassment on campus and on social media, Jane Doe withdrew from her dual enrollment at BCTC and the University of Kentucky. She withdrew twice during her college career. Her trauma was compounded financially by losing tuition and room and board expenses.

One, two, three, four hearings: Reliving the trauma of sexual assault is deliberate indifference.

Over the next several years, three additional hearings followed, led by the University Appeals Board (UAB). At the first three hearings, the university found that accused student violated the applicable administrative regulation. However, he was permitted to appeal each determination, identifying deficits in procedural fairness. On January 10, 2017, the student was deemed “not responsible” after the fourth hearing. Jane Doe appealed the decision to the University Appeals Board, but her appeal was denied.

Jane Doe took her case to federal court in 2017. This case was filed in the United States District Court Eastern District of Kentucky, and survived a motion to dismiss. Jane Doe specifically cited that the University of Kentucky was deliberately indifferent under Title IX. She said that it had failed to implement its own policies in a manner that allowed for prompt resolution of her report of assault because certain university officials deliberately tried to manipulate the process for a favorable outcome for her assailant. She also claimed the university had failed to offer appropriate academic support that would have allowed her to continue her education at the school.

After obtaining new counsel, Doe amended her complaint and the university again moved to dismiss, raising for the first time the argument that Doe could not bring Title IX claims against the University of Kentucky because she was a student of BCTC and not a student of the University. The court ruled in the University’s favor, and Doe appealed.

AAUW adopted the case though our legal case support program, which provides financial support for gender discrimination litigation because AAUW advocates for the vigorous enforcement of Title IX and all other civil rights laws pertaining to education. Campus sexual assault victims deserve, fair treatment, safe environments and uncompromised access to education. Stand with AAUW to protect Title IX.

Case Adopted 2017