Attorney Mark Hathaway is suing the UC system on behalf of all students disciplined for sexual harassment and sexual violence based on the UC’s 2015 sexual harassment and sexual violence policy.
The class-action lawsuit, which was filed in Alameda County, could include more than 500 cases, including 142 rape and sex offenses from UC Berkeley, according to court documents. It comes in response to an appellate court ruling from March that mandated cross-examination and rights to hearings in higher education environments, which led the UC to change its sexual harassment and sexual violence policy. The lawsuit alleges that the policies in place before this change denied due process to the accused and that the change in policy validates the claim that the previous policy was allegedly unfair.
“The claims arise from the failure of Respondent to implement fair policies that protect the Due Process rights of students disciplined for sexual misconduct,” Hathaway said in the lawsuit.
The original petitioner, referred to as John Doe to preserve privacy, was a former doctoral student at UCLA who was accused of stalking another student and sexually harassing them on multiple occasions. Doe was eventually suspended for two years after an investigation. Doe appealed the decision, citing “procedural error,” and claimed the university had reached “an unreasonable decision,” had insubstantial evidence and exercised “disproportionate” disciplinary actions, according to Hathaway’s lawsuit. After a hearing was held, the charge of stalking was dropped, but the sexual harassment allegation was upheld. Doe’s sentence was changed from two years of suspension to one.
According to the lawsuit, its goal is to enforce the rights of the original petitioner as well as the rights of the class, the rights affecting public interest and the due process rights of college and university students. The lawsuit is also asking for the petitioner to be compensated, for the charges against the petitioner to be vacated and for financial compensation to be awarded for the action and to cover legal fees.
The UC Office of the President press office has opted not to comment on the issue.
Not all people support the lawsuit and the ideas behind it. Attorney John Winer — who has represented victims of sexual harassment and sexual violence in several cases, including one from 2016 against the former dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law — said he had concerns about the lawsuit discouraging people from coming forward.
“It would just completely tilt the playing field in favor of the perpetrator and their lawyers, and it would have a strong repressing effect on victims coming forward in the same way that victims are scared to go to the police,” Winer said. “You know, this is supposed to be a safe alternative to that, but if the perpetrators have their way, then it’s not a safe alternative at all. It becomes a less safe alternative because the perpetrators are going to have lawyers and the victims are going to have nobody protecting them.”
The case is set to be heard in the Alameda County Superior Court.