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Syracuse Lawsuit Shines a Light on Title IX

Updated: Aug 7, 2022

A federal lawsuit was filed against Syracuse University last week that alleges several Title IX violations involving the handling of one of the school’s former lacrosse players. The lengthy 86 page complaint can be found here.[1]

The allegations stem from a series of events that transpired last spring involving a member of the men’s lacrosse team, Chase Scanlon. Scanlon, who transferred to Syracuse from Loyola in 2020, was arrested as he was walking into practice at Manley Field House on May 7, 2021 and charged with fourth-degree criminal mischief and second-degree harassment. The arrest took place three weeks after a domestic dispute that occurred on campus on April 17, 2021.

Scanlon was arraigned on his charges and pleaded not guilty. Since then, Scanlan’s criminal case been transferred to the Onondaga County Integrated Domestic Violence Court and there has not been any information released on the status of his charges.

The details surrounding the domestic dispute are graphic. Reports are that Scanlan began a heated exchange with his ex-girlfriend, who was also a Syracuse student and a member of the women's lacrosse team. The interaction quickly escalated and led to Scanlan breaking her phone, damaging her apartment, and placing her in a restrictive hold to the point where she felt like her ribs were going to break.

Below is a photograph of the damage that was allegedly caused by Scanlan during his tirade:[2]

The victim of the altercation chose to remain anonymous in the complaint and is referred to as the pseudonym Jane Doe (hereinafter referred to as “the Plaintiff”). She has decided to sue Syracuse for a series of decisions made by University officials that occurred during Scanlon’s time at Syracuse. Syracuse Athletic Director John Wildhack and former men’s lacrosse coach John Desko are also named as Defendants.[3]

Below is a brief overview of the timeline laid out in the complaint in addition to reports from various local media outlets as the story unfolded:

  • February 2020 – Scanlan and the Plaintiff begin an on-again off-again relationship that features sexual assault and abuse.

  • January 2021 – The Plaintiff reaches out to her assistant coach on the women’s lacrosse team to notify her of the abusive relationship.

  • January 22, 2021 – The Plaintiff coordinates with Syracuse Universities’ Title IX Office to enter into a “No Contact Order” against Scanlan. The Plaintiff does not file a formal complaint and the University does not choose to independently investigate Scanlan.

  • March 8, 2021 – After reaching out to the Title IX Office, the Plaintiff has the “No Contact Order” removed against Scanlan.

  • April 17, 2021 – Scanlan and the Plaintiff are involved in a domestic incident which the Plaintiff alleges began when Scanlan walked into her apartment just as she had gotten off the phone with another male SU student. Scanlan erupted into rage, broke her phone, damaged her apartment, and physically assaulted her.

  • April 19, 2021 ­– Scanlan is suspended from the men’s lacrosse team indefinitely.

  • April 25, 2021 – The men’s lacrosse team holds an anonymous vote to evaluate the team opinion on Scanlan’s future with the program. The team votes to permanently remove Scanlan from the team by a final tally of 57-1. On the same day, Associate Athletic Director Jamie Mullan informs the team captains that Scanlan would be reinstated and would be allowed to attend practice.

  • April 28, 2021 ­– Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick announces that his office is investigating the events that transpired on April 17, 2021. Coach Desko holds a press conference and states the reason Scanlan was originally suspended on April 19, 2021 was for “violating team rules and expectations”.

  • May 7, 2021 – Scanlan is arrested as he is walking into lacrosse practice and charged with fourth-degree criminal mischief and second-degree harassment. Shortly after his arrest Scanlan was suspended from the men’s lacrosse team for a second time.

The complaint paints a haunting image of the University’s handling of the situation involving Scanlan and the Plaintiff. It states the University’s Title IX Office “failed to adequately respond to the domestic violence and stalking that Plaintiff suffered”. The complaint continues, “The Scanlan assault was the avoidable conclusion of a chain of sexual harassment and domestic violence that included animal abuse, stalking, reproductive coercion and property damage.”[4]

Title IX is a set of laws that prohibits sex discrimination in education programs or activities that receive federal assistance. Title IX applies to both public universities and private universities, such as Syracuse, that receive federal funding. In total, the Plaintiff is bringing four claims under Title IX against the University and its officials including sex discrimination, creating a hostile environment, and retaliation.

The complaint is seeking to prove the University was aware of Scanlon’s violent nature and repeatedly looked the other way. The Plaintiff is claiming the school violated Title IX policy in their failure to investigate previous reports of harassment that put the school on notice of Scanlon’s violent nature with the Plaintiff. Additionally, she is seeking to show the school failed to properly discipline Scanlon after the April 17, 2021 incident, including readmitting Scanlan to the team to only suspend him again two weeks later.

The University has since answered the complaint with a motion to dismiss denying all claims and concluding they met all the requirements imposed by Title IX.[5] The contrast between the complaint and the University’s response exemplifies the rapidly changing landscape surrounding Title IX.

In 2020, the Trump administration overhauled Title IX creating a whole new set of standards on college campuses across the country. The alterations constructed by Betsy DeVos granted the respondent – Scanlan in this instance – considerably more due process. This means the respondent has a greater opportunity to defend themselves against claims being brought against them. The new rules grant the respondent the ability to cross-examine the complainant in a live hearing held on campus.[6] The Plaintiff made note of that requirement in her complaint and claimed she didn’t feel comfortable participating in a live cross-examination with Scanlan. This she stated, was one of several reasons why she didn’t file a formal complaint with the University Title IX Office.

The changes granting respondents more power in Title IX procedure could have been a major factor in Syracuse “flip-flopping” Scanlan from suspended, to reinstated, back to suspended in a three-week period. During this period, Scanlan’s former teammates took to social media to voice their displeasure with the allegations and speak out against domestic violence.

Another change under the Trump administration policy is the time period in which a school’s duty to respond to reports of sexual harassment will trigger. Schools can no longer be held to a constructive “should have known” standard, and they must have actual knowledge of sex discrimination to trigger their obligations.

It’s unquestionable that the Title IX changes grant colleges more protection in constructing their internal investigations and procedures while also increasing the burden on students bringing claims.

Chase Scanlan has since left Syracuse and declared for the National Lacrosse League draft on August 23, 2021.[7] The draft was held on August 23, 2021 and the former Orange attackman went undrafted.

On June 7, 2021, just a month after Scanlan’s arrest, John Desko retired after 23 years as the Syracuse Men’s Lacrosse Team head coach. Desko was replaced by the former head coach of the Women’s Lacrosse Team, Gary Gait. Gait was the Plaintiff’s head coach during her time on the women’s lacrosse team.

Since Desko’s retirement, Syracuse Women’s Basketball head coach Quentin Hillsman resigned amongst rumors of inappropriate behavior, threats, and bullying involving his players. A total of 11 women’s basketball players transferred from Syracuse during the past year. The Athletic has reported that Syracuse officials were aware of Hillsman’s conduct and didn’t initiate an adequate investigation in a timely manner.[8]

Matthew Netti is a 2021 graduate from Northeastern University School of Law. He currently works as an attorney fellow at the Office of the General Counsel for Northeastern University. You can follow him on twitter and instagram @MattNettiMN.

[1] Complaint, Doe v. Syracuse Univ., no. 5:21-cv-977 (N.D.N.Y. 2021). [2] Douglas Dowty, Syracuse Lacrosse Star Chase Scanlan Arrested At Manley, Jailed on Domestic Violence Charge (last visited Sept. 9, 2021) Skyler Rivera, Syracuse Officials Knew About Quentin Hillsman’s Misconduct, the Athletic Reports, The Daily Orange (last visited Sept. 9, 2021) [3] Complaint, Doe v. Syracuse Univ., no. 5:21-cv-977 (N.D.N.Y. 2021). [4] Jake Nazar, A Closer Look at Jane Doe v. Syracuse University, SB Nation (last visited Sept. 9, 2021) [5] Mtn. to Dismiss, Doe v. Syracuse Univ., no. 5:21-cv-977 (N.D.N.Y. 2021). [6] Meghan Downey, The Trump Administration’s New Title IX Rule, The Regulatory Review (last visited Sept. 9, 2021) [7] Tommy Sladek, Ex-SU Lax Star Wants to Go Pro, Faces a League Suspension if Selected, CNY Central, (last visited Sept. 9, 2021) [8] Skyler Rivera, Syracuse Officials Knew About Quentin Hillsman’s Misconduct, the Athletic Reports, The Daily Orange (last visited Sept. 9, 2021)

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