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From today’s decision by Judge Rene Marie Pomp (DNJ). Doe v. Rowan University.:

Plaintiff Jane Doe is a doctoral student at Rowan University in the Department of Clinical Psychology. She alleges that between August 2019 and January 2021, … her professor and mentor … Dr. Grayson[,] He repeatedly asked her out on dates for lunch, dinner, and late-night drinks, and would forcefully hug Plaintiff without her consent while they were alone in his office with the door closed. Plaintiff alleges that when she told Dr. Grayson in July 2021 that she planned to leave his lab because of his frequent advances, Dr. Grayson responded by telling Plaintiff that if she left his lab, he would “do anything to make it happen.” [his] The strength to get it [her] He was dismissed from the doctoral program. {Dr. Grayson is subject to a no-contact order against Plaintiff.}

As part of the university’s graduate program in clinical psychology, students must pass certain program standards, including the doctoral qualifying examination. To pass the qualifying exam and enroll in the program, a doctoral student must obtain passing scores in seven different content areas. If a doctoral student fails in four or more content areas, the student will be considered to have failed the entire exam and must retake the exam on the next available exam date. A student who fails the qualifying examination partially or completely twice will be dismissed from the program. Exams are graded blindly.

On October 25, 2021, the Department informed Plaintiff that she had failed her first attempt at the qualifying exam. Because she only passed four of the seven content areas, she will have to retake the entire qualifying exam. [According to the declaration that the court cited for this proposition, she actually failed four of the seven content areas. -EV] On August 16 and 18, 2022, Plaintiff retook the qualifying exam. She failed, passing only six of the seven content areas. The only section I failed – Integrative Health – was the section that Dr. Grayson (and another professor) had scored on. {Plaintiff alleges that the second grader was “known to be a close colleague and collaborator of Defendant Grayson.”} This issue was later addressed by the administration as described below.

Importantly, Plaintiff’s struggle with the qualifying exam was not the first time she had struggled with the program standards. Since 2020, Plaintiff has been on academic probation. While Plaintiff received excellent grades in her coursework and some strong evaluations, she failed her (1) first-year research project (twice); (2) Master’s thesis and (3) its case concept standard – an oral presentation based on practical experience. {The plaintiff did not mention any of these failures in her plea. After the defendants raised it in their memorandum of opposition, she asserted in a “counteraffidavit” attached to her memorandum of response that she failed these standards—also rated by Dr. Greeson—because she rejected Dr. Greeson’s advances.}

While the plaintiff ultimately passed both her first-year research project and master’s defense thesis, she has yet to pass her case conceptualization standard. As in the qualifying examination, if a doctoral student fails to partially or completely pass the case visualization criterion twice, she will be dismissed from the program.

On October 6, 2022, Plaintiff timely appealed her second failure of the qualifying examination. Plaintiff’s appeal included a motion to exclude Dr. Greeson from the appeals process and to “throw him out.”[] “Dr. Grayson’s grade from the section of the qualifying examination that she failed. Four days after filing her appeal—and nearly two years after Plaintiff claimed that Dr. Grayson’s harassing behavior had ended—Plaintiff filed a Title IX complaint against Dr. Grayson. The University’s Title IX investigation remains ongoing …. [The University states] That the administration… responded to her request to exclude Dr. Greeson’s degree, and that two of the new class of students re-enrolled in Plaintiff’s Integrated Health Department. After the grades were returned, the plaintiff still failed the Integrated Health section of the qualifying examination….

The Department’s Clinical Training Committee heard Plaintiff’s appeal on August 10, 2023, and voted to deny it on August 11, 2023…. On August 23, 2023, the Clinical Training Committee informed Plaintiff that based on the outcome of her appeal and her continued probationary status in the program, she was required to discontinue All program-related activities including teaching, taking courses, and applying for their class. Training, unless and until it prevails [a further] Appeal to the Dean. Plaintiff claims that if she does not apply for fall training by October 2023, she will have to repeat another year in the doctoral program…. On September 21, 2023, Dr. Elizabeth Morlino, Associate Dean for Academic and Research Affairs, informed Plaintiff that [further] The appeal was rejected. Dr. Morlino explained that the Dean’s Committee considered the plaintiff’s allegations of misconduct against Dr. Greeson but “found no evidence that the outcome on the second attempt…was [compromised] In any way” in light of the blind grading system.

After twice failing the qualifying examination and being unsuccessful in her appeal, Dr. Huff informed Plaintiff that she had been dismissed from the Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology but that she had the right to appeal the dismissal to the Dean’s Office within ten business days….as of the date hereof Opinion It is not clear whether the plaintiff has formally appealed her dismissal but all the evidence presented indicates that she plans to do so.

Doe requested a preliminary injunction to reinstate her, but the court denied:
The evidence presented makes it clear that Plaintiff is unlikely to succeed on Title IX swap [sexual harassment] Claim. Unwanted sexual advances or verbal or physical actions of a sexual nature swap Harassment under Title IX is when “(a) the complainant’s submission to such conduct is either expressly or implicitly a condition or condition of her education or job experience in a federally funded educational program, or (b) the complainant’s submission to or refusal to conduct is used as a basis for the [an] Education…decision[] It affects[ed] claimant.”

Additionally, Plaintiff alleges in Title IX swap The harassment must show intentional indifference [“]An official who at least had “authority to address the alleged discrimination and take corrective measures on behalf of the recipient,” had “actual knowledge of discrimination in the recipient’s programs,” and failed to respond appropriately.”

Here, as Plaintiff acknowledges, university officials are fully aware of the Title IX complaint and are taking appropriate steps to address it through the pending investigation. Once Plaintiff informed the university of her concerns that Dr. Grayson had failed Plaintiff in retaliation for rejecting his unwanted advances, the administration revoked the qualifying test score and had two brand-new graders blindly re-score Plaintiff’s failed section. However, the plaintiff failed. It is also for this reason that Plaintiff cannot likely prove that her disapproval of Dr. Grayson’s alleged conduct was the basis of the affirmative adverse educational action (i.e., failure of the qualifying test) – Plaintiff appears to have failed the qualifying test in every way… .

Plaintiff is also unlikely to succeed on her Title IX retaliation claim…. Plaintiff argues that the adverse action that followed the filing of her Title IX complaint was for the University to deny Plaintiff access to program benefits before the qualifying test score appeal became final. But again, the university was simply following its own procedures. As the program guide explains, the student will be placed on probation after failing the qualifying examination. Once a student is on probation, she:

“May not be permitted to begin practicum training, participate in clinical proficiency tests or qualifying examinations, apply for an internship, or register for thesis credit Until their probationary status is resolved. Students may also be prohibited from participating in other program work (e.g., participating in practicum) depending on the nature and reason for the test. Probationary status may also affect eligibility for financial aid, assistantships, fellowships, and scholarships. Decisions regarding students moving forward during the probationary period will be made by the DCT in consultation with the CTC, Head/Head of Department, Dean of the College and other appropriate departments.[“]

In other words, there appears to be nothing unusual about the university taking certain steps to remove program benefits from plaintiff in light of her probationary status.

Moreover, there is a wealth of evidence—which Plaintiff failed to state in the pleading subject to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11—that supports the conclusion that the only reason the University fired Plaintiff was because she was unqualified. She failed her first-year research project (twice), the case visualization criterion (which she still must pass to remain in the program), and her master’s thesis. All this in addition to her failing the blindly graded qualifying exam twice and Integrated Health being blindly re-graded on her qualifying exam. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s argument that she is a strong student in the classroom does not convince the court that she is likely to succeed on her retaliation claim.

Represented by James A. Keller (Saul Ewing LLP) University.

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