United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Bennett and Marc Betinsky, GASKINS, BENNETT & BIRRELL,
LLP, and Beau McGraw, MCGRAW LAW FIRM, PA, for plaintiff.
Charles Knapp and Kathlyn Noecker, FAEGRE BAKER DANIELS LLP,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S
MOTION FOR PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION
R. TUNHEIM, CHIEF JUDGE
John Doe, a high school senior, was placed on indefinite
suspension by Defendant The Blake School
(“Blake”) for his behavior at a February 10,
2018, school dance. Doe admits that he came to the dance
drunk, danced aggressively, and ran twice from police, but he
denies allegations that he groped one freshman girl and
sexually harassed a second. Doe alleges that Blake's
investigation into these allegations and its disciplinary
process were negligent and violated Title IX, Title VI, and
the Minnesota Human Rights Act (“MHRA”), and
moves for a preliminary injunction. Because Doe has not yet
shown a fair chance of prevailing on his claims or that he
will be irreparably harmed absent an injunction, the Court
will deny Doe's motion.
is a mixed-race student attending The Blake School. (Compl.
¶ 2, Apr. 2, 2018, Docket No. 1.) He has worked as a
camp counselor at Blake since he was 11, and has been
involved in coaching youth sports. (Declaration of John Doe
(“Doe Decl.”) ¶ 4, Apr. 11, 2018, Docket No.
14.) Doe, a senior, has attended Blake since kindergarten,
and has received significant financial aid during the course
of his enrollment. (Decl. of Joseph Ruggiero (“Ruggiero
Decl.”) ¶¶ 6-7, Apr. 20, 2018, Docket No.
27.) Doe believes that he will not be able to afford to
attend college without a scholarship. (Doe Decl. ¶ 8.)
In part through his involvement in sports at Blake, Doe
earned a full Division I athletic scholarship. (Id.
Blake School is a private prekindergarten through
12th grade school in Hopkins with roughly 1, 375
students. (Compl. ¶¶ 3, 7.) Because Blake receives
some federal funding, it is subject to Title VI and Title IX.
(See Id. ¶¶ 8, 15, 108.) Blake stresses
its commitment to pluralism, noting that 30% of its students
identify as students of color and 22% of its students receive
financial aid. (Ruggiero Decl. ¶ 5.) According to Doe,
however, only 1.7% of Blake's upper school students are
African-American males. (Decl. of Robert Bennett
(“Bennett Decl.”) ¶ 3, Apr. 23, 2018, Docket
Saturday, February 10, 2018, Doe and 20 to 25 other students
drank at a classmate's house and rode a bus to a school
dance at Blake. (Compl. ¶¶ 42-44.) The dance was
staffed by two Blake administrators, a Hopkins police
officer, and adult volunteers. (Decl. of Mike Canfield
(“Canfield Decl.”) ¶¶ 4, 7, Apr. 20,
2018, Docket No. 22.) Students entered through a single point
of access, where adults checked to see if they had brought
prohibited items or appeared intoxicated. (Id.
¶ 5.) Students were required to arrive between 8:30 and
9:00 p.m. (Id. ¶ 6.) Doe and the other students
arrived at 8:45 p.m., took off their shoes, and danced.
(Compl. ¶¶ 45-46.)
to Doe, he “danced by jumping up and down, grinding,
and twerking for approximately an hour with no objection from
Blake staff.” (Id. ¶ 47.) Doe says that,
at one point, a girl pressed up behind him and he danced with
her for a few moments before she walked away; then, as he
went to get a drink of water, her friend told him that the
way he had danced was inappropriate. (Id.
¶¶ 49-51.) Doe ignored her and went to a photo
booth with his friends. (Id. ¶ 52.)
to Blake, several freshmen girls approached freshman class
dean Jeanette Vance to report that Doe had grabbed one of
them (“Student A”) inappropriately and that they
believed that he had been drinking. (Decl. of Jeanette Vance
(“Vance Decl.”) ¶ 4, Apr. 20, 2018, Docket
No. 28.) Specifically, Student A, who is African-American,
alleged to Vance that Doe approached her, told her that he
liked that she knew the words to the song that was playing,
grabbed her by the hips and pulled her close, moved his hands
down her hips, and then “moved his hands all the way
down her crotch and grabbed her vagina area.”
(Id. ¶¶ 6-8.) The student and her friends
moved to the other side of the dance floor; it is alleged
that Doe followed them and again grabbed Student A by the
crotch. (Id. ¶ 8.) It was further alleged that
the student's two friends told Doe to stop and pushed him
away from Student A, he put his arms around one of them
(“Student B”), began grinding against her from
behind, and held her even as she tried to push him away.
(Id. ¶¶ 9, 15-16.) Eventually Doe moved
away; the girls then left the dance floor and reported him to
divergent narratives reunify when Doe was confronted by
sophomore class dean Mike Canfield, who took him into a
classroom to meet Vance and Officer Leland Coleman. (Compl.
¶ 53; Canfield Decl. ¶¶ 4, 9-10.) Canfield
told Doe that one or more students had complained about
unwelcome touching,  that faculty suspected he was drinking,
and that he would have to take a breathalyzer test. (Compl.
¶¶ 54-55; Canfield Decl. ¶¶ 11, 14; Vance
Decl. ¶ 13.) According to Blake, Doe denied that he
would put his scholarship at risk by drinking and stated his
view that he was being singled out because he was black.
(Canfield Decl. ¶¶ 12-13; Vance Decl. ¶¶
11-13.) Doe ran from the classroom without his shoes or coat,
and, with Canfield and Coleman after him, was quickly
apprehended. (Compl. ¶¶ 56-57; Canfield Decl.
¶¶ 15-16; Vance Decl. ¶ 13.) Doe voluntarily
got into a police car and was taken back to the school.
(Compl. ¶ 58; Canfield Decl. ¶ 16.) When Coleman
opened the door to give him a breath test, Doe again ran.
(Compl. ¶¶ 59-60; Canfield Decl. ¶ 17.) He
surrendered when an officer pointed a weapon at him and
ordered him to stop. (Compl. ¶ 60; Canfield Decl. ¶
17.) Doe was eventually released to his mother's custody.
(Compl. ¶ 61.)
mother spoke with senior class dean Shawn Reid twice that
evening. According to Doe, Reid told her that Doe was
believed to have groped a girl at the dance but that she
should not worry about it, because Doe “wasn't
doing anything different than anyone else.”
(Id. ¶¶ 62-66.) According to Reid, he told
Doe's mother that he was suspected of drinking,
“that he was accused of grabbing the crotch of one or
more girls, ” and that he had run from police. (Decl.
of Shawn Reid (“Reid Decl.”) ¶ 8, Apr. 20,
2018, Docket No. 25.) According to Doe, an officer told
Doe's mother that law enforcement was only interested in
Doe's drinking and flight from police and was not
investigating the groping allegation. (Compl. ¶ 68.)
handbook sets out a policy for investigating and adjudicating
harassment, including allegations of sexual misconduct.
(Compl. ¶ 26, Ex. 1 at 43-45, Apr. 2, 2018, Docket No.
1-1.) Specifically, it defines sexual harassment to include
“[u]nwelcome touching in any form” and
“[p]hysical assault, ” and warns that sexual
harassment “may result in warnings, suspensions or
immediate dismissal of a student.” (Id. at
44.) The handbook describes Blake's commitment to a full
review of complaints, a “thorough and fair”
investigation, and “compassionate and
confidential” proceedings. (Id.) Harassment is
considered a “major infraction, ” consequences
for which “usually include suspension or
expulsion.” (Id. at 42.)
handbook also outlines Blake's disciplinary procedures
for major infractions. (Id. at 42-43.) It states
that students will be informed of the alleged infractions and
asked to present an explanation in a meeting with their grade
dean. (Id. at 42.) The grade dean will consult with
the upper school director to determine how discipline will be
handled; from there, the process is at the discretion of the
administration. (Id.) Final authority for discipline
rests with the upper school director unless expulsion is
being considered, in which case it rests with the head of
school. (Id. at 43.) A Community Judiciary Board
(“CJB”) may be tasked with making
recommendations. (Id. at 42.) The CJB includes eight
students elected from grades 10 to 12, two faculty members,
and upper school assistant director Paul Menge. (Decl. of
Paul Menge (“Menge Decl.”) ¶ 3, Apr. 20,
2018, Docket No. 23.) This year, three of the eight students
are students of color; two identify as African-American.
(Id. ¶ 4.)
Monday, February 12, Reid - Doe's grade dean - told Doe
that he would be going before the CJB because he was accused
of drinking alcohol and dancing inappropriately. (Compl.
¶ 73.) Doe alleges that his mother asked Reid about the
latter accusation, and Reid told her that the main thing Doe
should be concerned about was drinking and running from
police. (Id. ¶ 74.) Reid told Doe to prepare a
statement about his actions and advised him on its content.
(Id. ¶¶ 71, 75.) According to Reid, in at
least one of his conversations with Doe and his mother, Reid
made clear that Doe was accused of grabbing girls in the
crotch. (Reid Decl. ¶ 12.) Reid says that Doe
consistently denied that he grabbed any girls that way.
(Id. ¶ 14.)
Monday, a junior student (“Student D”) approached
a teacher and, with some reluctance, reported that Doe had
grabbed her by the hips and moved his hands toward her
crotch, followed her and a friend across the gym, and
repeated his actions. (Decl. of Anne Rubin ¶¶ 3-5,
Apr. 20, 2018, Docket No. 26.) Student D said that she was
not aware of the other complaints. (Id. ¶ 7.)
This complaint did not go to the CJB.
Tuesday, February 13, Doe says that he was told for the first
time that he was facing accusations of sexual assault from
two freshman girls. (Compl. ¶¶ 80-82.) Doe was
shown the girls' statements. (Id. ¶¶
82-83.) Doe was taken before the CJB “within
minutes” of being shown the statements. (Id.
¶ 84.) The CJB first heard from upper school director
Joseph Ruggiero, who said that the CJB's recommendation
would be advisory. (Menge Decl. ¶¶ 6-7.) Next it
heard from Reid, who described his observations at the dance
and his discussions with Doe afterward, and from Vance, who
presented “information from her
investigation.” (Id. ¶ 8.) Finally, it heard
from Doe, who read his prepared statement. (Id.
¶ 9.) Doe's statement focused on drinking and
running from police; however, Doe acknowledged that he had
been “jostling people more than necessary, ” that
he was told both by a student and by Blake staff that he was
dancing inappropriately, and that he “may have needed
to be removed from the dance floor.”(Compl.
¶¶ 76-77; Menge Decl. ¶ 9, Ex. 1, Apr. 20,
2018, Docket No. 23-1.)
met to deliberate on both February 13 and February 14. (Menge
Decl. ¶ 10.) CJB members agreed that “Doe's
conduct at the dance constituted sexual harassment and/or
sexual assault under School policies” and that Doe
should be punished both for those actions and for his choice
to drink. (Id. ¶ 11.) The CJB was evenly
divided as to its recommended punishment, with half of its
members believing Doe should be expelled and half believing
he should be required to finish his coursework off
campus. (Id. ¶ 13.) “After
receiving the CJB recommendations, Blake administrators met
and deliberated at length regarding the appropriate
consequences for Doe's actions.” (Reid Decl. ¶
15.) In an email to the Blake Community, Head of School Anne
Stavney stated that she made the ultimate decision based on a
consensus of administrators. (Decl. of Robert Bennett ¶
4, Ex. 1 (“Stavney Email”) at 3, Apr. 23, 2018,
Docket No. 33-1.)
Friday, February 16, Ruggiero and Reid called Doe and his
mother to school and informed them that Doe was to be
suspended indefinitely, barred from campus, and prohibited
from playing sports. (Compl. ¶¶ 88-89; Reid Decl.
¶ 15; Ruggiero Decl. ¶ 14.) However, Doe alleges
that the administrators told his mother that “the
school would not put anything in [Doe's permanent file
about the sexual allegations . . . as long as he left the
school quietly.” (Compl. ¶ 90.) Blake has not
squarely denied the allegation; although Stavney's email
stated broadly that “[t]he student who perpetrated the
assault was never told that the disciplinary action would be
left out of his record, ” Doe's allegation is
focused on reference to sexual misconduct. (Stavney Email at
Sunday, February 18, Doe received a letter from Reid
describing Doe's infractions (including “[s]exual
harassment of fellow students”) and his punishment.
(Compl. ¶ 91, Ex. 2 at 1, Apr. 2, 2018, Docket No. 1-2.)
The letter noted that Doe would continue his coursework
remotely so that he could earn his diploma on schedule and
that Blake would provide a math tutor and college counseling
as necessary. (Id.) Doe's mother also received a
copy of Doe's permanent file, which stated that the
reason for the discipline was “sexual” in nature.
(Compl. ¶ 93.)
that this result would cost him his athletic scholarship,
(Doe Decl. ¶¶ 6-8), Doe retained counsel and
threatened legal action in the course of asking the school to
reconsider, (see Compl. ¶ 94, Ex. 3, Apr. 2,
2018, Docket No. 1-3.) Blake did reconsider, but concluded
that its prior investigation was sufficient and its second
look only reaffirmed its conclusions. (Compl. ¶ 95, Ex.
4 at 1, Apr. 2, 2018, Docket No. 1-4.) Stavney wrote to
Doe's mother that Doe had admitted that he had been told
his dancing was inappropriate, that he had denied to the CJB
that he had grabbed girls' crotches, and that Blake's
published disciplinary process was followed. (Id. at
3-4.) Nonetheless, Stavney offered for Blake to assist Doe in
gaining access to other athletic opportunities, including a
post-graduate year in a high-level lacrosse program.
(Id. at 6.) Through counsel, Blake also offered to
“consider [Doe's] input” regarding
Blake's communication with the college that admitted him
and to “consult and advise [Doe] regarding the content
of [his own] communication to put things in the most positive
light with an objective of retaining his admission and
scholarship.” (Id. at 1-2.) Doe's offer of
admission and scholarship have since been irreversibly
revoked. (Bennett Decl. ¶ 2.)
obtained statements from four witnesses who he says
“would have supported [his] contention that he did not
commit the acts he is alleged to have committed” if he
was given more time to assemble evidence for the hearing.
(Compl. ¶¶ 98-102.) Two of the witnesses allege
that the school treated allegations against white male
students much differently. (Id. ¶¶ 98-99.)
Blake denies this in part, stating that “not all of the
information . . . about other alleged student ...