In a decision scrutinizing how colleges investigate sexual assault allegations, Connecticut’s highest court ruled Friday that a former Yale student is not immune from a defamation lawsuit by a fellow student who was exonerated in criminal court after she accused him of rape.
The Connecticut court ruled 7-0 that because he had fewer rights to defend himself in university proceedings than he would in criminal court, the rape accuser can’t benefit fully from immunity granted to witnesses in criminal proceedings.
The unanimous ruling came despite warnings from more than a dozen violence prevention groups that such immunity is crucial to prevent rape victims from being discouraged to come forward.
It’s one of the few state court rulings on the topic in any U.S. court and could be cited widely in future cases, legal experts said. It ruled that Jane Doe, the pseudonym she used in court proceedings, was not immune from liability for statements she made to Yale investigators accusing fellow student Saifullah Khan of raping her in her dorm room in October 2015.
The decision could add to the already vexing problem of sexual assaults going unreported, violence prevention groups said in a brief to the state Supreme Court.
“Without protections from retaliation, including absolute immunity, victims will be dissuaded from using school reporting and disciplinary processes and will lose out on their education while perpetrators dodge accountability,” a lawyer for the groups wrote in a filing supporting the accuser’s immunity rights.
Khan is suing Doe and Yale over the rape allegations and his November 2018 expulsion from the school, saying the sex was consensual. Khan was criminally charged, but a jury acquitted him earlier in 2018.