While a male student’s racial discrimination claims against Drexel University arising out of a sexual harassment investigation were thrown out, a federal judge ruled he could sue the university for gender bias.
Freshman Karthik Saravanan had a “dysfunctional romance” with a white female peer at Drexel, but the relationship ended acrimoniously, ultimately resulting in him claiming that he was sexually assaulted and his ex-girlfriend, referred to in court papers as J.K., claiming he stalked and harassed her, according to U.S. District Judge Mark Kearney of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Saravanan, who was expelled after the university’s investigation, claimed that Drexel exhibited a pro-female bias in such cases, illustrated by the fact that J.K. was retroactively given probation. In his lawsuit, Saravanan, who is Indian, also alleged the university discriminated against him on the basis of race and gender, further claiming that a Drexel official called his rape claim “‘ludicrous,’” asking him, “‘Why was your penis erect then? Doesn’t that mean you enjoyed it?’”
Kearney noted in his opinion the need for balanced judgment when investigating campus sexual assault claims.
“Universities managing disciplinary processes evaluating freshmen students’ conduct in a dysfunctional romance must strive to ensure fairness including avoiding inherent bias or procedures which may favor a woman’s claim of sexual harassment and stalking over a man’s claim of sexual assault by the woman,” Kearney wrote. “We appreciate the disciplinary process is painstakingly difficult in the he-said/she-said drama of a failed romance between college freshmen. But in affording this process, the university must work to ensure accessing and resolving highly charged sexual misconduct claims does not differ based on the gender of the complaining student.”
With that in mind, Kearney held that Saravanan did not adequately show he faced discrimination based on race or national origin under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The case was ultimately pared down to a single Title IX claim of erroneous outcome of the disciplinary process, alleging that Drexel’s decision to expel him was motivated by gender bias, and a breach of contract claim.
“While Mr. Saravanan’s alleged facts indicate bias on the basis of gender, he fails to plead Drexel discriminated against him on the basis of his race, color, or national origin in violation of Title VI or Section 1981. As we will proceed into discovery on the Title IX claim and absent a substantive challenge to his [state law] breach of contract and deceptive trade practices claims, we exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Mr. Saravanan’s state law claims,” Kearney said.
Saravanan’s attorney, Philadelphia-based Raul Jauregui, said that, under the law, “it’s very difficult to state these claims” but Saravanan’s case was made easier because he had a lot of friends who testified that their accounts of events were either omitted or inaccurately recorded by Drexel investigators.
Jauregui also lauded Kearney for his treatment of the case.
“I’m extremely thankful for the judge for his concern and care for all the parties,” Jauregui said.
Drexel’s lawyer, Michael E. Baughman of Pepper Hamilton, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.