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TITLE IX — ADULT LEARNER
Student accuses instructor
of online sexual harassment
Case name: Harbi v. Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, et al., No. 16-12394 (D. Mass. 09/01/17).
Ruling: The U.S. District Court, District of Massa-
chusetts dismissed a suit against the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology.
What it means: Title IX doesn’t protect a foreign
citizen who doesn’t reside in the United States but
takes an online course from a U.S. university.
Summary: In 2013, 31-year-old French resident
Faïza Harbi registered with the Massachusetts Insti-
tute for Technology for an online physics course
taught by Walter Lewin.
In November, Lewin and Harbi began an elec-
tronic correspondence that lasted for a few months.
They communicated by email, Facebook pages, and
eventually by Skype. At all times, Lewin was in the
United States and Harbi was in France. The two
never met in person.
Many of the communications between Lewin and
Harbi were explicitly sexual in nature. According to
Harbi, Lewin implied that her successful completion
of the course was conditioned on their continuing
In October 2014, Harbi ﬁnally reported Lewin to
MIT. An ensuing university investigation concluded
Lewin had violated multiple policies and procedures,
and MIT promptly severed ties with him.
Harbi ﬁled a suit asserting several claims against
MIT. One of them asserted violations of Title IX. The
university ﬁled a motion to dismiss, arguing the
statute only applied to students who resided in the
The district judge said the plain language of the
statute extended its protections only to “persons in
the United States.”
Notwithstanding that language, Harbi correctly
noted the statute’s purposes were to: (1) avoid the
use of federal resources to support discrimina-
tory practices and (2) provide protection against
those practices. She argued the act should apply
extraterritorially to ensure those purposes were
But the judge said Harbi’s approach would
simply ignore the statutory language. He said
courts weren’t empowered to fix statutes, no
matter how worthy the goal. The judge dismissed
the claim, explaining that only Congress could
rewrite Title IX. ■
TITLE IX — EXPULSION
Accused student files suit
after his appeal is denied
Case name: Rolph v. Hobart and William Smith
Colleges, No. 6:16-CV-06515 (W.D. N.Y. 09/20/17).
Ruling: The U.S. District Court, Western District of
New York refused to dismiss a claim against Hobart
and William Smith Colleges.
What it means: Pressure from the U.S. govern-
ment and the media can cause educational institu-
tions to err on the side of gender bias.
Summary: The Ofﬁce for Civil Rights wrote a letter
in 2011 to numerous educational institutions that
set forth certain guidelines to be followed when han-
dling sexual assault reports from female students,
and that threatened a possible withdrawal of federal
funding if such complaints weren’t taken seriously.
In 2013, Hobart and William Smith Colleges was
criticized by a Hufﬁngton Post blog for the way it
handled the sexual assault complaint of a female
student. Not long after, Hobart learned that The
New York Times had begun an investigation into
how Hobart treated sexual harassment complaints.
In February 2014, Hobart student Jane Roe
accused fellow student Matthew Rolph of sexual
assault. After an independent attorney conducted an
investigation, HWS convened a panel to adjudicate
the charges. Rolph wasn’t permitted to question
Jane Roe, who was the only witness against him.
The panel concluded after the hearing that Rolph
had violated the policy. He was expelled the next day.
After his appeal was denied, Rolph ﬁled a suit
asserting several claims. One of them was that Title
IX had been violated.
Rolph ﬁrst alleged HWS had been threatened by OCR
with the possible withdrawal of federal funding if it wasn’t
adequately responsive to sexual assault complaints
from female students. He also alleged that HWS had
helped Jane Roe prepare her case. In addition, Rolph
alleged that both the investigator and hearing panel:
(1) didn’t seek out witnesses Rolph had identiﬁed as
favorable to him, (2) failed to comply with procedures
designed to protect accused students, and (3) reached
conclusions that were erroneous. Rolph also alleged
the panel questioned him extensively about whether he
perceived Jane Roe as intoxicated, but failed to inquire
of her about whether Rolph appeared intoxicated.
Hobart ﬁled a motion to dismiss.
The district judge said such alleged defects stand-
ing alone might not necessarily support an inference
of gender bias, but ruled that Rolph had successfully