Close-up Of Gavel On Wooden Desk justice court law

A federal judge has rejected the claims of two former Trinidad State Junior College students who believed their race was a factor in the school’s decision to expel them for perpetrating an alleged sexual assault on a female student.

In May 2018, two plaintiffs identified as John Doe and Richard Roe filed a federal complaint against the Colorado Community College System and Trinidad State. They alleged a violation of Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, which prohibits the denial of educational benefits due to  gender or racial discrimination.

Doe and Roe were first-year students at Trinidad State in February 2015 when they both had sex with a female student called Megan Poe for the purpose of the lawsuit. She later claimed the interaction was a sexual assault and reported it to both the school and police. Poe also underwent a forensic examination by a nurse.

The two male students declined to meet with the Title IX investigators due to the potential criminal charges. They were not allowed to live on campus following the incident but could still attend classes and activities. On March 5, Trinidad State suspended the plaintiffs, which Doe and Roe alleged was an “attempt to intimidate them into cooperating with the investigation.”

The school, after talking with Poe and nine other individuals, issued a report that concluded Doe and Roe more likely than not violated the zero-tolerance school policy. A hearing on May 6, which the plaintiffs did not attend, culminated in Trinidad State expelling the students. As such, they were ineligible for admission to any institutions in the community college system.

Doe and Roe in their lawsuit raised concerns about the investigative process, including observations about Poe drinking on the night in question, inconsistencies in accounts, and that the college should have determined whether Poe had a history of making similar accusations.

U.S. District Court Judge William J. Martínez dismissed the original claims in 2019 because the statute of limitations had expired. Under the 1994 U.S. Supreme Court case of Heck v. Humphrey, Doe and Roe thought they could not file suit until their criminal charges were dropped in July 2017, but the judge noted the two-year window in Colorado to sue actually began on their expulsion date.

However, Martínez allowed Doe and Roe to file a second complaint. In a Sept. 4, 2020, ruling, Martínez again dismissed the Title IX claims, finding the school and the individuals involved with the Poe case were covered by governmental immunity.

Regarding their charge of race discrimination, the plaintiffs, both Latino and fluent English-speakers, pointed to Poe’s police statement that “I was scared because they were talking Spanish and laughing a lot of the time, and I didn’t know what they were saying.” They concluded their race was a significant factor in the report, and therefore connected to the decision of the school to investigate and expel.

Trinidad State disputed that there was intentional race discrimination, writing “Plaintiffs fail to identify any examples of similarly-situated female or Caucasian students whom any of the Defendants treated more favorably than Plaintiffs in the Title IX process.”

“The Court agrees with Defendants and finds Plaintiffs have not alleged sufficient facts to show intentional discrimination,” Martínez decided. “Plaintiffs ask the Court to make a series of inferences based on Ms. Poe’s statement to the police, and conclude that the Individual Defendants intentionally discriminated against Plaintiffs in reaching the decision to expel them.”

He elaborated that just because Poe feared while the male students were speaking Spanish during the alleged assault, it was unreasonable to label their race the sole source of her panic. The plaintiffs’ argument “would require the Court to also logically infer that Ms. Poe would not have been scared if the assault had been perpetrated by English-speaking individuals,” Martínez pointed out.

Igor Raykin, an attorney at Kishinevsky & Raykin who represented Doe and Roe, said he understood the reasoning for dismissal given how the argument he attempted to make in court was a challenging one to sustain.

"I think anytime that you're dealing with these kinds of situations of a mixture between race and sex, it's difficult to parse out what led the college to make the decision that it ultimately did," Raykin said.

The case is Doe et al. v. Colorado Community College System et al.

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