Officials at the University of Scranton have asked a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit of a former student who claims the school failed to implement reasonable safeguards that would have prevented him from experiencing anti-LGBT harassment from another student.
“John Doe,” who currently resides in New Jersey, graduated from the university in May. He filed suit against the school on Aug. 27 in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, seeking an unspecified amount in damages. He also requested a jury trial.
From August 2018 to December 2018, Doe lived in off-campus housing shared with another student who allegedly tormented him because of his sexual orientation. Doe claims university officials “turned a blind eye” to the bullying and antigay harassment.
On Nov. 1, 2018, the alleged harasser texted Doe: “You’re below me intellectually but you’re probably used to being in that position.” Also, in the text, the alleged harasser made derogatory remarks implying that Doe was the receptive partner during anal sex with an ex-boyfriend, according to the lawsuit.
Doe repeatedly complained to university officials, to no avail. One administrator allegedly told Doe, “Don’t let it get to you.” Doe “did not feel his complaints were being taken seriously” by school administrators, according to the lawsuit.
On Dec. 15, 2018, the alleged harasser physically assaulted Doe. During the attack, the alleged harasser said, “I’m gonna murder you in your sleep” and referred to Doe as a “faggot,” according to the lawsuit.
Doe’s mother spoke to a dean at the school about the alleged harassment and was told, “Pennsylvania doesn’t recognize this as a hate crime.” The dean failed to take remedial action against the alleged harasser, according to the lawsuit.
School administrators didn’t order the alleged harasser to leave the house and live somewhere else. Instead, they suggested that Doe leave the house. For safety reasons, Doe moved into on-campus housing for his final semester at the university, which was more expensive, according to the lawsuit.
On Nov. 25, in a 44-page filing, university officials urged U.S. District Judge James M. Munley to dismiss Doe’s case as meritless.
The defense filing states that university officials weren’t “deliberately indifferent” to Doe’s claims of antigay harassment. The filing notes that after the Dec. 15 altercation, university officials offered Doe the option of moving back onto campus. “Doe elected to move back on-campus and subsequently made the move out of his off-campus housing unit and into the University’s campus housing,” the filing states.
Additionally, the defense filing asserts that the university didn’t exercise “substantial control” over Doe’s former housemate and that the alleged harassment wasn’t “pervasive.”
“[Doe] has not adequately pled that he suffered harassment that was ‘so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive’ that it deprived him access to the University’s educational opportunities or benefits provided by the University,” the filing states. Those elements would be necessary for Doe’s case to move forward, according to the filing.
Doe’s claims for punitive damages against the university are similarly meritless because Doe failed to allege that the University of Scranton engaged in “conduct motivated by evil motive or intent or reckless or callous indifference to his federally protected right [to fair housing],” according to the defense filing.
In his lawsuit, Doe asked Munley to order the university to implement a policy that anti-LGBT harassment will be addressed appropriately by university officials and that a harasser will be required to move to different housing. However, the defense filing urges Munley to dismiss Doe’s request as “moot,” since Doe has already graduated from the university and couldn’t benefit from such an order.
As of presstime, Munley hadn’t ruled on the university’s request to dismiss Doe’s case.
Justin F. Robinette, an attorney for Doe, blasted the defense filing. “University officials are taking an entirely dismissive approach to my client’s lawsuit, which is similar to the way they treated him as a student,” Robinette told PGN. “Officials were deliberately indifferent to Mr. Doe’s plight until he was physically attacked by his housemate. And then they made matters worse by encouraging my client — not the harasser — to move out. If you were an LGBT student, would you attend that school? And if you were a parent of an LGBT student, would you send your child there?”
A spokesperson for the university had no comment for this update.