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Dive Brief: 

  • Private California colleges do not have to give students accused of sexual misconduct or intimate partner violence the opportunity to cross-examine their accusers during live hearings, the California Supreme Court ruled on Monday. 
  • Colleges must provide accused students meaningful opportunities to respond to allegations before they are disciplined, Associate Justice Joshua Groban wrote in the opinion. However, they also need to balance those obligations with ensuring that the process doesn’t retraumatize accusers or dissuade victims from reporting sexual misconduct or intimate partner violence, he wrote. 
  • In his opinion, Groban also pointed to the Biden administration’s recent regulatory proposals around Title IX, the sweeping law banning sex discrimination in federally funded schools. He wrote that the proposed changes may be “trending towards providing private universities with more flexibility in determining whether to conduct a live hearing.” 

Dive Insight: 

Legal groups, women’s advocacy organizations and California colleges have been deeply interested in the case’s outcome, with roughly three dozen groups and institutions weighing in through court filings. 

In his opinion, Groban wrote that colleges must juggle providing a fair process for accused students and maintaining a safe campus — all while not diverting too many resources from their educational mission. 

“It is therefore appropriate to give private universities broad discretion in formulating their disciplinary processes to ensure that they not only provide the accused student a meaningful opportunity to be heard, but also embolden victims to report incidents of sexual misconduct or intimate partner violence,” Groban wrote. 

During administrative proceedings, Groban continued, accused students have “no absolute right to a live hearing” where they can cross-examine their accusers. 

Groban’s opinion reverses a 2020 California Court of Appeals court decision. That court had held that a then-University of Southern California student in 2017 was wrongfully denied the opportunity for a live hearing to cross-examine his accuser. 

The case, Matthew Boermeester v. Ainsley Carry, et al., centers on a football player who was expelled from USC in 2017 after officials determined he violated the campus policy against intimate partner violence. 

His ex-girlfriend initially accused Boermeester of grabbing her hair, placing his hands on her neck and hitting her head against an alley wall near her apartment. Two eyewitnesses and video evidence appeared to back up elements of her account, according to Monday’s opinion. 

However, Boermeester argued that he was merely “horsing around,” though he admitted to putting his hand around her neck, according to court documents. His ex-girlfriend also later recanted her statement and accused the Title IX office of manipulating her into exaggerating the incident. 

The case became a flashpoint in the debate around Title IX proceedings. In 2017, then-Education Secretary Betsy DeVos referred to the case during a speech in which she argued that Obama-era regulations had stripped the rights away from accused students. 

DeVos later overhauled Title IX regulations, including by mandating that colleges allow students and their accusers to cross-examine each other during live hearings through advisers. Advocates for sexual assault survivors said this requirement dissuaded them from reporting incidents. 

Those regulations, which were implemented in 2020, are still in place. They are inapplicable to Boermeester’s case, however, as they took effect three years after his expulsion.  

Meanwhile, the Biden administration released a draft last year of its own Title IX rule. That plan would broaden what types of incidents colleges have to investigate and do away with the live hearing requirement. The Education Department had originally planned to release final rules in May, but it has since delayed them until October.