Alyssa Reid v. James Madison University, et al.

CASE SUMMARY

​Ms. Reid was a nationally recognized debater employed by JMU as a full-time faculty member and Assistant Director of the “Individual Events Team” to assist with coaching, tournament travel, and community outreach. She was on track to obtain her dream job as head coach of the team.

In December 2018, Ms. Reid’s ex-girlfriend, a fellow coach at JMU, lodged an unfounded and ambiguous “Title IX Statement” against Ms. Reid with JMU. That “Statement,” however, did not conform to JMU’s own written policies for intaking, investigating, and responding to Title IX complaints. Because of the obvious deficiencies in the document, JMU’s Title IX Director took it upon herself to define the nature of the accusations against Ms. Reid, thereby creating the claims of a non-consensual relationship out of whole cloth. JMU then pursued an unconstitutional process based on the wrong policies, depriving Ms. Reid of her foundational notice and due process rights. JMU compounded the inadequate due process problems by failing to provide Ms. Reid with accurate information about the accusations against her, by punishing her prior to the hearing, by not requiring her accuser to attend the hearing in person, by prohibiting Ms. Reid from cross-examining or otherwise confronting her accuser, and by violating Ms. Reid’s constitutional right to a fair hearing.

JMU structured its Title IX hearings based on ED’s guidance, often referred to as the “2011 Dear Colleague Letter,” which was designed to enhance the likelihood that anyone accused of sexual harassment or misconduct would face discipline—regardless of guilt or innocence. As a result, Ms. Reid never had a full and fair opportunity to challenge the validity of the charges against her, with the JMU defendants applying standards that not only flouted due process, but that were not even in place at the time of the relationship.

Despite withdrawing its offending and infamous “Dear Colleague Letter,” the Department of Education has simultaneously sought to avoid responsibility for the harms its unlawful prior guidance has caused students and faculty subjected to these “kangaroo courts.”

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CASE STATUS: Active

CASE START DATE: May 3, 2021

DECIDING COURT: U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia

ORIGINAL COURT: U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia

CASE DOCUMENTS

September 19, 2022 | Response Brief of Appellees
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July 19, 2022 | Appellant’s Opening Brief
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March 29, 2022 | Memorandum Opinion of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Harrisonburg Division
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July 30, 2021 | Plaintiff’s Response to Department of Education’s and Secretary Cardona’s Motion to Dismiss
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July 2, 2021 | Plaintiff Alyssa Reid’s Brief in Response to Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss
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July 2, 2021 | Department of Education and Secretary Cardona’s Memorandum in Support of Motion to Dismiss
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July 2, 2021 | Department of Education and Secretary Cardona’s Motion to Dismiss
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June 2, 2021 | Memorandum in Support of Defendants James Madison University,Jonathan R. Alger, Heather Coltman, Robert Aguirre, And Amy M. Sirocky-Meck’s Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rules 12(B)(1) And 12(B)(6)
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June 2, 2021 | Defendants James Madison University, Jonathan R. Alger, Heather Coltman, Robert Aguirre, And Amy M. Sirocky-Meck’s Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rules 12(B)(1) And 12(B)(6)
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May 3, 2021 | Complaint and Jury Trial Demand in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia
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PRESS RELEASES

July 19, 2022 | NCLA Appeals Title IX Lawsuit Against James Madison University to Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals

Washington, DC (July 19, 2022) – Today, the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a nonpartisan, nonprofit civil rights group, filed an opening brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Reid v. James Madison University, et al. Alyssa Reid, a former forensics coach at James Madison University (JMU), is appealing the judgment of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, which dismissed her Complaint against the college alleging violations of due process during Title IX investigative and disciplinary proceedings.

On January 3, 2019, JMU placed Ms. Reid on leave of absence pending the results of investigation and adjudication of a complaint filed by Ms. Reid’s ex-girlfriend. By its own terms, JMU’s sexual misconduct policy had no applicability to Ms. Reid’s relationship. The complainant was never a “student enrolled in [Reid’s] class or under [Reid’s] supervision,” nor was she ever “a member of the team [Reid] coache[d],” nor was there “any other relationship where [Reid] ha[d] the opportunity to pressure or force the relationship on” her. Furthermore, at the time the policy was promulgated, the complainant was no longer a student of any kind and instead was an employee of equal rank at the University. Nevertheless, JMU wielded this policy retroactively against Ms. Reid.

Ms. Reid was precluded from confronting her accuser and from cross-examining either her or her “witnesses.” She was prevented from even crafting her defense against the ill-defined charges with any kind of precision, because JMU did not timely provide her with the charges or the “evidence.” JMU pursued an unconstitutional process based on the wrong policies, depriving Ms. Reid of her foundational notice and due process rights.

The district court, instead of focusing on the specific process that JMU employs in adjudicating and resolving Title IX cases or the actual communications between Ms. Reid and JMU, appears to have drawn a bright-line rule where any stage denominated as an “appeal” is automatically treated as being an opportunity to “remedy” rather than “influence” a decision. Such an approach ignores not only JMU’s own understanding of its processes, but the governing Supreme Court precedent (Del. State Coll. v. Ricks) and a nearly identical case from the Sixth Circuit (Endres v. Northeast Ohio Med. Univ). As these two cases explain, in determining when a cause of action in Title VII or Title IX cases accrues, the focus must be on the date when the university formally notifies an employee of its official position. Because the district court failed to properly apply Ricks and its progeny to the facts of this case, it erred in concluding that Ms. Reid’s complaint is time-barred.

NCLA released the following statements:

“Within JMU’s kangaroo court system, Alyssa Reid was presumed guilty and was given no realistic chance to prove her case. We are confident that the Fourth Circuit will see JMU proceedings in this case for what they werea mockery of due process and fair dealing—and will let our client have her day in court.”
— Greg Dolin, Senior Litigation Counsel, NCLA

“JMU violated Ms. Reid’s right to be informed of the charges against her, her right to confront and cross-examine her accusers, and her fundamental right to due process. The court has continued to block her efforts to be treated fairly. We are confident that the Fourth Circuit will right these wrongs and allow Ms. Reid the opportunity to vindicate her good name.”
— Harriet Hageman, Senior Litigation Counsel, NCLA

For more information visit the case page here.

ABOUT NCLA

NCLA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit civil rights group founded by prominent legal scholar Philip Hamburger to protect constitutional freedoms from violations by the Administrative State. NCLA’s public-interest litigation and other pro bono advocacy strive to tame the unlawful power of state and federal agencies and to foster a new civil liberties movement that will help restore Americans’ fundamental rights.

Download the full document

 

May 3, 2021 | Watch: NCLA Sues James Madison Univ. and U.S. Dept. of Ed. over Weaponized Title IX Investigation

Washington, DC (May 3, 2021) – Today the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a nonpartisan, nonprofit civil rights group, filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia against James Madison University (JMU) and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on behalf of Alyssa Reid. NCLA also released a video outlining the case of Ms. Reid, a former employee in the JMU School of Communication Studies. Sadly, Alyssa’s saga provides yet another example of how Title IX has been hijacked and weaponized to exact revenge for a bad breakup. NCLA’s complaint argues that the actions of James Madison University, assisted by the Dept. of Education, deprived Ms. Reid of her rights and entitlements as protected by the constitutions of both the United States and the Commonwealth of Virginia, as well as by Title IX itself.

Ms. Reid was a nationally recognized debater employed by JMU as a full-time faculty member and Assistant Director of the “Individual Events Team” to assist with coaching, tournament travel, and community outreach. She was on track to obtain her dream job as head coach of the team.

In December 2018, Ms. Reid’s ex-girlfriend, a fellow coach at JMU, lodged an unfounded and ambiguous “Title IX Statement” against Ms. Reid with JMU. That “Statement,” however, did not conform to JMU’s own written policies for intaking, investigating, and responding to Title IX complaints. Because of the obvious deficiencies in the document, JMU’s Title IX Director took it upon herself to define the nature of the accusations against Ms. Reid, thereby creating the claims of a non-consensual relationship out of whole cloth. JMU then pursued an unconstitutional process based on the wrong policies, depriving Ms. Reid of her foundational notice and due process rights. JMU compounded the inadequate due process problems by failing to provide Ms. Reid with accurate information about the accusations against her, by punishing her prior to the hearing, by not requiring her accuser to attend the hearing in person, by prohibiting Ms. Reid from cross-examining or otherwise confronting her accuser, and by violating Ms. Reid’s constitutional right to a fair hearing.

JMU structured its Title IX hearings based on ED’s guidance, often referred to as the “2011 Dear Colleague Letter,” which was designed to enhance the likelihood that anyone accused of sexual harassment or misconduct would face discipline—regardless of guilt or innocence. As a result, Ms. Reid never had a full and fair opportunity to challenge the validity of the charges against her, with the JMU defendants applying standards that not only flouted due process, but that were not even in place at the time of the relationship.

Despite withdrawing its offending and infamous “Dear Colleague Letter,” the Department of Education has simultaneously sought to avoid responsibility for the harms its unlawful prior guidance has caused students and faculty subjected to these “kangaroo courts.”

NCLA released the following statements:

“JMU readily jumped in on the side of our client’s accuser, becoming an advocate for what appears to have been an act of revenge over a bad breakup between two consenting adults. When Ms. Reid sought JMU’s assistance under Title IX to stop her ex-girlfriend’s harassment and abuse, JMU never bothered to respond. Instead, these Defendants moved forward with a ‘sham’ hearing, shielding the accuser from cross-examination and from having to support her accusations. These Defendants must be held accountable for their actions and prohibited from violating anyone else’s due process and confrontation clause rights in the future.”

— Harriet Hageman, Senior Litigation Counsel, NCLA

“At minimum, Ms. Reid was entitled to know what standards applied at JMU before her professional life was destroyed by an unsubstantiated Complaint concerning her private life. A letter from a Washington bureaucrat should not be the catalyst for such an unfair and devastating process.”

— John Vecchione, Senior Litigation Counsel, NCLA

For more information visit the case page here.

ABOUT NCLA

NCLA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit civil rights group founded by prominent legal scholar Philip Hamburger to protect constitutional freedoms from violations by the Administrative State. NCLA’s public-interest litigation and other pro bono advocacy strive to tame the unlawful power of state and federal agencies and to foster a new civil liberties movement that will help restore Americans’ fundamental rights.

Download the full document

OPINION