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Judge denies Occidental request to seal suit over expulsion

EducationTrials and ArbitrationJustice SystemSexual MisconductSexual AssaultCrimeU.S. Department of Education
Judge denies Occidental's request to seal suit involving sexual assault inquiry
Judge denies Occidental's request to seal suit, noting that university failed to take action months ago

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge refused to seal portions of a lawsuit against Occidental College on Wednesday, denying such a request from attorneys for the liberal arts school.

Lawyers for Occidental had asked Judge Luis A. Lavin to make confidential an investigative report included in a case filed by a former student who was expelled after an internal school panel found that he had sexually assaulted a classmate while both were drunk.

Attorneys for the Eagle Rock college argued that documents contained "sensitive, confidential and personal information."

Attorneys for The Times and the man opposed Occidental's request, saying that the lawsuit had been filed earlier this year and that the college had made no previous effort to seal any documents.

The judge agreed, saying: "I don't understand why [it] is so pressing in June when it wasn't so pressing in February."

The Times published a story earlier this month based partially on allegations contained in the documents.

The nearly 180-page investigative report, conducted by an outside firm, contained interviews about the incident with witnesses and the victim. In it, the students said: Both had been drinking, she went to his room, took off her shirt while dancing, kissed him and returned to his room later for sex, asking in a text message if he had a condom. When friends stopped by the room to ask if she was OK, she told them yes.

The crux of the case was whether she was too drunk to understand what she was doing — and whether he knew or should have known of her impaired condition.

The suit alleges that Occidental failed to provide the male student with a fair hearing, that it didn't follow its own sexual misconduct policy and that it did not provide sufficient evidence for the finding. The student, who was a freshman, was expelled last year after the panel found that the woman, who was also a freshman, was too incapacitated to provide consent.

Attorneys for the man, who is identified as John Doe in the lawsuit, and Occidental declined to comment.

Like dozens of other colleges and universities, Occidental is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education for its handling of sexual assault allegations. College administrators have been criticized by students and faculty for their handling of misconduct under the federal Title IX law that requires an equal educational opportunity for all students.

Occidental spokesman Jim Tranquada said he could not comment on pending litigation but said that the school was committed to complying "with Title IX and related laws which includes providing a disciplinary process that is fair for everyone involved."

jason.song@latimes.com
Twitter: @latjasonsong

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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