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Hazing, Harassment Suits Part of Litigation ‘Explosion’

June 16, 2015

The Legal Intelligencer
By Max Mitchell

In the past three months, three high-profile civil suits over hazing and harassment have been filed against two universities in Pennsylvania, and that cluster of lawsuits is no coincidence, according to personal injury attorneys and defense counsel.

Lawyers on both sides agree that a perfect storm has been brewing for the past few years, and has now led to what some attorneys referred to as an “explosion” of litigation in this area.

[…]

However, Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads attorney Jeremy D. Mishkin said the directive often puts schools in the odd position of investigating complaints that used to be handled only law enforcement. Mishkin gave the example of a disciplinary hearing over sexual assault allegations being conducted a philosophy professor and investigated school employees who previously only handled allegations of cheating.

Mishkin added that the DOE’s directive greatly lowered the burden of proof. He noted that, in many cases, the accused are not permitted to cross-examine their accusers.

“Given that the right to confront an accuser is fundamental, it puts the rabbit in the hat,” Mishkin said. “Maybe they haven’t been the victim of an assault.”

Punishment for those found guilty can be severe, and the process can also be difficult for the victims, Mishkin said.

“You end up with an amateur-hour situation where people’s lives are at stake on both sides,” Mishkin said.

[…]

According to attorneys, while this confluence of social media and increased pressure on educational institutions has led to a significant wave of litigation against schools, another wave, arising out of the same factors, is likely on its way.

That wave of litigation, attorneys said, will come from students accused of harassing or hazing others claiming that their due process rights were violated.

“I could certainly see that as a potential next wave-that overzealousness, presuming someone to be guilty and refusing to allow them to defend themselves,” Mishkin said.

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