BOSTON (CN) - Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was hit with a federal complaint Thursday by three women who say her unraveling of campus-assault guidelines will gut investigations or lawsuits they have pending.
Filed by attorney Wendy Murphy with the New England School of Law, the lawsuit in Boston comes four weeks after Devos replaced Obama-era guidance on campus sexual assault investigations with new instructions that allow universities to require higher standards of evidence when handling complaints.
The group Equal Means Equal is joined in the complaint by three anonymous women who are each involved in pending sexual assault or harassment cases. Mary Doe is the only one of the three plaintiffs who identifies as a victim of sexual assault. She says she is suing Boston University for violations of Title IX, the federal civil rights law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in education.
He co-plaintiffs meanwhile have open investigations before the Office of Civil Rights. Jane Doe brought sex-based claims of unequal treatment against Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, and Susan Doe says she was forced to withdraw from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in Chicago after suffering “numerous instances of extensive sexual misconduct perpetrated by an SAIC employee who was also her direct advisor.”
Whereas the old guidelines hold allegations of sex discrimination to civil rights standards, the the new rules adopted by DeVos incorporate criminal definitions. Instead of the civil rights standard of “preponderance of evidence,” the challengers say their claims will be held to the stricter “clear and convincing evidence” standard of proof.
In announcing the rule change last month, DeVos said her efforts were a boon to schools
“Through intimidation and coercion the failed system has clearly pushed schools to overreach,” DeVos said. “With the heavy hand of Washington tipping the balance of her scale, the sad reality is that Lady Justice is not blind on campuses today. This unraveling of justice is shameful. It’s wholly un-American and it is anathema to the system of self-governance to which our founders pledged their lives over 240 years ago.”
Thursday’s complaint notes that the DeVos rules cover only severe forms of sex-based civil rights harms, leaving the full force Title IX to protect students who endure less serious conduct like verbal harassment.”
“This means that the more serious physical offenders of sex-based civil rights harms are less likely to be held responsible compared to less serious verbal offenders,” the complaint states.
Another point of contention for the challengers regarding the DeVos rules is that they “require that offenders of sex-based civil rights harms receive the same rights and/or treatment as victims of civil rights harms.”
DeVos faced criticism before announcing the rule change when she made it a point to meet with men’s rights groups on the same day in July she met with victims of campus sexual assault.
Equal Means Equal was started by documentary director Kamala Jones, who released a film last year by the same name.
“Unfortunately, Secretary DeVos recently announced new guidelines that permit schools to subject women victimized by rape or sexual assault to second class treatment during civil rights hearings on college campuses,” Jones said in an Oct. 14 blog post with fellow activist Natalie White.
“Let’s be clear,” the post continued, “these people could care less about rape victims’ rights and they are actively making campuses less safe for girls and women. We at Equal Means Equal believe this is definitely the wrong direction and we need to act now.”
A representative for the Education Department did not respond to an email seeking comment.
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