Yale Student Acquitted of Rape Can Sue Accuser for Defamation
The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled the accuser is not immune because the accused had fewer rights during Yale’s disciplinary process than he would have had in criminal court.
NEW HAVEN, Conn. — A former Yale University student who accused a fellow student of rape is not immune from a defamation lawsuit, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled on June 23.
Saiffullah Khan, who was suspended and eventually expelled from Yale, was acquitted of sexual assault charges in criminal court and subsequently sued the school and his accuser for defamation, reports The New Haven Register.
Jane Doe accused Khan of raping her in her dorm in 2015. According to Khan, he walked Doe back to her dorm from a Halloween party and they had consensual sex, reports AP News. The next morning, Doe told her friends that she was raped. However, when she went to Yale’s health center for contraceptive care, she told staffers she had consensual unprotected sex, according to court documents. Doe then filed a complaint with the school, which immediately suspended Khan. He was later charged by Yale police but was acquitted in 2018.
The District Court originally dismissed Khan’s defamation claims, citing absolute immunity for the accuser. Khan then appealed to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, which asked the Connecticut Supreme Court to weigh in on the immunity issues. The justices ruled 7-0 that Doe is not immune because Khan had fewer rights to defend himself in Yale’s disciplinary process than he would have had in criminal court.
The justices said Yale’s University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct lacked “adequate safeguards to ensure reliability and promote fundamental fairness” during the hearing, disqualifying it from being “quasi-judicial.” The ruling stated Doe didn’t testify under oath or provide any sworn statement, failing to meet the legal standards. Yale’s procedures do not subject accusers to cross-examination and do not require witnesses to testify under oath.
In the same ruling, the justices said college students who report being sexually assaulted deserve some immunity for their statements to school investigators, even if the proceedings are not quasi-judicial. However, that immunity would only apply if the statements are not malicious.
Violence prevention groups expressed concerns that the ruling would further deter sexual assault victims from coming forward.
“Without protections from retaliation, including absolute immunity, victims will be dissuaded from using school reporting and disciplinary processes and will lose out on their education while perpetrators dodge accountability,” a lawyer for the groups wrote in a court filing supporting the accuser’s immunity rights.
Legal experts said the ruling could be a major precedent cited in other lawsuits by students accused of sexual misconduct who want to challenge the fairness of their schools’ disciplinary proceedings.
“It was striking to me how detailed they were in criticizing the fairness of the Yale procedures,” said K.C. Johnson, a history professor at Brooklyn College. “There are passages from this opinion that I suspect will be quoted in basically every accused student’s brief moving forward.”
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