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Federal Title IX Syracuse University Litigation

Calcaterra Law represents Plaintiff Jane Doe in an action against Defendant Syracuse University (“SU”), former Syracuse Men’s Lacrosse Coach John Desko and Syracuse Director of Athletics John Wildhack for discrimination on the basis of sex in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. 1681 and related state law claims including negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiff was a SU student who suffered extended periods of sexual harassment while at Defendant SU which culminated in the late evening of April 17, 2021, and the early morning hours of April 18, 2021. At that time, Plaintiff was attacked by highly lauded SU Men’s Lacrosse Player Chase Scanlan who confronted Plaintiff in a fit of jealousy, smashed her cell phone and physically assaulted her, squeezing the breath from her lungs to the point that Plaintiff feared for her life. See Complaint.

As alleged in the Complaint, the assault was the avoidable conclusion of a chain of sexual harassment and domestic violence incidents perpetrated by Scanlan against Plaintiff which included animal abuse, stalking, reproductive coercion and property damage, all of which Plaintiff had directly reported to Defendant SU in January 2021. The Complaint alleges that Defendant SU’s response to these warning signs of gender-based harassment and the assault in April 2021 was deliberately indifferent and put the onus of protecting students from Scanlan directly on Plaintiff’s shoulders.

The allegations set out in the Complaint illustrate how Defendant SU actively created and/or condoned and/or was deliberately indifferent to a culture of sexual harassment and “winning at all costs” which resulted in Plaintiff suffering significant and ongoing trauma. The Complaint further alleges that members of SU’s Athletics Department engaged in retaliation by stating that her scholarship could be rescinded if she “burned bridges” with the school and then discouraging Plaintiff from continuing her athletic career at SU. By bringing this action, Plaintiff is seeking justice for what happened to her as well as lasting change in the manner in which Defendant SU handles allegations and incidents of sexual harassment and assault.

The Complaint was filed in the Northern District of New York in August 2021. In his September 2022 ruling granting a motion to dismiss the Complaint brought by Defendant SU, U.S. District Court Judge (N.D. New York) Gary L. Sharpe ruled that SU’s actions, as alleged, did not amount to deliberate indifference or retaliation, and wrote that although, “based on the complaint, [SU Department of Public Safety’s] actions in investigating Doe’s assault could be viewed as inadequate, ineffective, and could have placed Doe or her roommate’s safety in jeopardy, Doe’s allegations do not suffice to establish deliberate indifference on behalf of Syracuse, because DPS does not qualify as ‘an appropriate person’ who can rectify a violation of Title IX.”

In January 2023, Plaintiff filed her opening brief in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the District Court’s decision to dismiss. The brief argues that the trial court erred in dismissing the Complaint because it overlooked the legally permissible plausible inferences from the deficiencies and irregularities in SU’s response, applied the incorrect legal standard of review since no discovery had commenced, and improperly denied Plaintiff leave to amend the Complaint. Calcaterra Law was joined on the brief by Bergstein & Ullrich.