Four UT-Austin students sue university, claiming Title IX, constitutional rights violations

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Photo Credit: Zoe Fu | Daily Texan Staff

Four undergraduate male students are suing the University, saying they were unfairly disciplined for actions they committed as pledges in an unnamed fraternity last fall, according to a lawsuit filed in early April. 

In the lawsuit, the anonymous plaintiffs accuse the University of violating the students’ rights under Title IX, the U.S. Constitution and the Texas Constitution. 

While the exact reason for the University’s disciplinary actions is not specified in the lawsuit, it states the Office of the Dean of Students placed the students on disciplinary probation and required them to participate in a Virtual Academic Integrity Module tutorial. The tutorial is a disciplinary requirement for academic dishonesty, according to information on the tutorial from the UT Libraries website.

The lawsuit states the University violated Title IX, the federal law banning discrimination on the basis of sex at any institutions that receive federal financial assistance, because it does not punish female students, especially sorority members who participate in sorority-related activities, as often or as severely as it does with male students. 

“The University treats all students and student organizations equally under its rules and policies and does not discriminate on the basis of gender,” UT spokesperson Shilpa Bakre said in an email.

The students are seeking $1 million plus attorneys’ fees, as well as the striking of the disciplinary action from the students’ records.

 

The students, who are anonymously named Jon 1 Doe, Jon 2 Doe, and so on, are represented by attorneys Chigozie Odediran and Terry P. Gorman. Neither responded to multiple requests for comment.

According to the lawsuit, the students have been harmed “emotionally and economically for perhaps the rest of their lives” by UT’s disciplinary process. The economic harm from the University’s disciplinary actions refers to students potentially being required to retake a class, meaning they would have to pay again and possibly stay at UT for an extended amount of time in order to complete the class.

The lawsuit describes the University’s disciplinary process for students as a “Draconian Disciplinary Dragnet” that is “confusing” and “limited,” and results in students rarely being found innocent. It states that in some cases, such as the plaintiffs’, students are denied the right to appeal their punishment directly from the Office of the Dean of Students. In other cases, students are given hearings conducted by the University with a panel of students and faculty to determine guilt.

Another complaint outlined in the lawsuit is that the University uses lawyers during disciplinary hearings while also denying students any legal counsel of their own, providing reasoning for the lawsuit to claim UT violated the students’ due process rights as listed in both the U.S. and Texas Constitutions. The lawsuit also claims the students’ equal protection rights under these constitutions were violated.

Bakre said UT has not yet been served with or formally notified of the lawsuit, so it has yet to file a response in court.