Dr. Mukund Vengalattore v. Cornell University and U.S. Dept. of Education

CASE SUMMARY

Dr. Vengalattore was a tenure-track professor of physics at Cornell University with an impressive history of conducting ground-breaking research. After a graduate student left his program for academic reasons, the student falsely accused Dr. Vengalattore of sexual harassment.

Following mandatory “guidance” from the U.S. Department of Education, Cornell had set up a campus disciplinary process that dispensed with every fundamental notion of due process. Dr. Vengalattore was not allowed to see the accusations against him, much less challenge the “evidence” collected by the college, provide evidence of his innocence, confront his accuser, or even defend himself at a hearing.

Unable to prove his innocence in this unfair process, Dr. Vengalattore was denied tenure, disciplined by Cornell, and faced the loss of his promising career. NCLA sued Cornell for its violations of due process, but also the Department of Education for forcing Cornell to adopt such an unfair process.

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CASE STATUS:
The defendants have moved to dismiss the case, which Dr. Vengalattore has opposed.

CASE START DATE:
September 18, 2018

DECIDING COURT:
U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York

ORIGINAL COURT:
U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York

 

CASE DOCUMENTS

Sept. 16, 2019 | Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Cornell University's Motion to Dismiss

Dr. Mukund Vengalattore was subjected to a fundamentally unfair and gender and racially biased disciplinary proceeding that falsely branded him as someone who committed sexual misconduct with a student and then lied about it. Cornell never disputes that this process was unfair, and never denies the rampant procedural irregularities, numerous discriminatory comments lodged at Dr. Vengalattore, or the devastating impact that its finding has had on his professional and personal life. Instead, Cornell engages in evasion, claiming that this case is really about tenure, and wrongly trying to litigate disputes in a pre-discovery motion…

Click to read the full Memorandum of Law 

Jul 15, 2019 | Vengalattore Memorandum in Opposition to Motion to Dismiss Complaint

Much of the Department’s Motion is dedicated to arguing that Dr. Vengalattore lacks standing to challenge its unlawful conduct. (See Doc. 36-1 at 8.) On the contrary, he has standing against the Department because he has suffered both substantive and procedural injuries from the guidance documents at issue. These injuries can be remedied by action from this Court invalidating the documents and enjoining the Department from reissuing similar letters…

Click to read the full Memorandum of Oppostition

Sept. 18, 2018 | Vengalattore v. Cornell University and U.S. Dept of Education Complaint

WHEREFORE, for the foregoing reasons, Plaintiff Dr. Vengalattore demands judgment against Defendants as follows:
(i) on the first cause of action for violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, a judgment awarding Plaintiff damages in an amount to be determined at trial, including, without limitation, damages to reputation, past and future economic losses, loss of career opportunities, and loss of future career prospects, plus prejudgment interest, attorneys’ fees, expenses, costs and disbursements;

(ii) on the second cause of action for violation of Title VI, a judgment awarding Plaintiff damages in an amount to be determined at trial, including, without limitation, damages to reputation, past and future economic losses, loss of career opportunities, and loss of future career prospects, plus prejudgment interest, attorneys’ fees, expenses, costs and disbursements;…

Click to read the full Complaint

PRESS RELEASES

Sep 18, 2019 | NCLA Refutes Cornell University’s Motion to Dismiss Its Former Professor’s Title IX Lawsuit

Washington, D.C. — The New Civil Liberties Alliance has filed a response opposing Cornell University’s Motion to Dismiss the Complaint NCLA submitted on behalf of Dr. Mukund Vengalattore last year. Professor Vengalattore, a former tenure-track physics professor at Cornell, was subjected to a Title IX disciplinary proceeding utterly lacking in due process and infected by racial and gender bias. As a direct result of its flawed process, Cornell falsely branded Dr. Vengalattore as guilty of a consensual sexual relationship with a graduate student—something that neither he nor the student alleged.   

Dr. Vengalattore never had a full and fair opportunity to challenge the validity of the charges against him in the disciplinary proceeding used by Cornell. Cornell’s falsehoods continue to interfere with his ability to get another tenure-track position, and Dr. Vengalattore is committed to clearing his name and making sure Cornell’s unfair process cannot be used again. Rather than attempt to defend its unfair processes, Cornell has tried to portray this case as being about Vengalattore’s tenure decision—which was already litigated—rather than about Cornell’s unlawful disciplinary regime.

Cornell violated Title IX through its gender-biased disciplinary process. They hid the precise accusations from Dr. Vengalattore yet obligated him to prove his innocence to investigators who worked hand-in-hand with the accuser. Dr. Vengalattore never had a hearing on these charges and was not allowed to confront his accuser. This shoddy investigation violated every notion of due process.” Caleb Kruckenberg, Litigation Counsel, NCLA

ABOUT NCLA 

NCLA is a nonprofit civil rights organization 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.

For more information visit us online: NCLAlegal.org.

Jul 15, 2019 | NCLA Challenges ED’s Title IX Guidance for Campus Disciplinary Proceedings

Washington, DC (July 15, 2019) – The New Civil Liberties Alliance today filed a Memorandum of Law opposing the Department of Education’s Motion to Dismiss the Complaint NCLA filed last fall on behalf of Dr. Mukund Vengalattore. NCLA’s client was an assistant physics professor at Cornell on track for tenure when in 2014 a graduate student working in his labs falsely accused him of sexual misconduct. Since then, Dr. Vengalattore has been the victim of what Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos described as a “failed system” of “kangaroo courts” “imposed by political letter.”

The Department of Education (ED) sent colleges and universities across the country three edicts (in 2001, 2011, and 2014) requiring them to create campus disciplinary systems that lacked basic elements of due process and failed to ensure fundamental fairness. If colleges refused to cooperate with this “rule by letter,” ED threatened to withhold their federal funding. Cornell receives a significant amount of federal funding each year conditioned on the university’s continued compliance with Title IX. With this level of dependency, schools like Cornell do not have a meaningful choice between following the three unlawful guidance edicts and forgoing funding.

At the Department’s insistence, Cornell tore down basic protections in its own disciplinary proceedings. For example, the school did away with the “clear and convincing” standard for assessing guilt it had been using and instead adopted ED’s preferred “mere preponderance of the evidence” standard. In short, Dr. Vengalattore was subjected to a biased, discriminatory and fundamentally unfair system that was structured, by the Department, to ensure he would be disciplined.

Despite withdrawing the 2011 and 2014 guidance, the Department of Education continues to enforce its unlawful commands, while simultaneously trying to avoid responsibility for the harms its unlawful guidance has caused students and faculty subjected to these “kangaroo courts.”

The Department of Education must bear full responsibility for putting Dr. Vengalattore through a horribly unjust proceeding. His personal reputation and professional standing have suffered greatly as a result of the flawed and baseless findings made by his campus inquisitors, acting on mandatory instructions from the Department.Caleb Kruckenberg, Litigation Counsel, NCLA

NCLA’s filings are asking the Court to declare that ED’s Title IX guidance is unlawful and unenforceable.

ABOUT NCLA 

NCLA is a nonprofit civil rights organization 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. 

Contact:

Judy Pino
New Civil Liberties Alliance
202-869-5218
judy.pino@ncla.legal