A recent decision against Harvard University in favor of a student accused of sexual assault demonstrates a viable path to challenging student discipline decisions. As we have discussed previously, courts are wary of interfering with academic decisions of universities, but have been willing to hold schools accountable for failing to follow their own established policies in student disciplinary processes. Where a student handbook or other policy promises certain protections, courts will defend the reasonable expectations of students who encounter a process significantly less fair than what the university agreed to provide. These principles came into play in the “Dr. Doe” case, recently decided by the Massachusetts Superior Court.
We have repeatedly discussed on this blog how schools handle sexual misconduct allegations through internal grievance procedures. However, students involved in these processes must remember that the conduct that gives rise to Title IX allegations may also give rise to civil and criminal legal proceedings. Students involved in school misconduct cases need to understand how these different proceedings may intersect and impact one another before deciding how to approach their cases.
University Title IX and sexual misconduct policies prohibit sexual harassment, which includes sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking. All these behaviors are also criminal—though the definitions used in the criminal law and in school policies may differ. For example, in Massachusetts criminal law, indecent assault and battery is defined as an intentional, unjustified touching of a person’s private areas (a term that has been defined through case law to include various body parts). In many college and university policies sexual assault means sexual acts without consent, which is often defined as “affirmative, voluntary, knowing, and continuous agreement to engage in a specific form of sexual activity” (to quote the Wellesley College policy). All criminal sexual activity is generally also prohibited by school sexual misconduct policies, but there are categories of sexual misconduct that are prohibited by schools but may not be criminal.
This month, the Supreme Judicial Court heard argument in Sutton v. Jordan’s Furniture. This case addresses questions about how commission-based pay plans can be structured to comply with the Wage Act, Overtime, and now-repealed Sunday Pay laws.
The Statutes and Past Interpretation
Massachusetts’ overtime statute requires employers to pay employees time and a half for hours worked in excess of forty hours in a work week. Until it was repealed this year, the Sunday Pay statute similarly required a higher rate of pay for hours worked on Sundays. The Massachusetts Wage Act sets out requirements for payment of wages, including promptness, and extends that protection to commissions, which are treated as wages when the commission amount is “definitely determined” and “due and payable.” The Wage Act also prohibits special contracts designed to evade the Wage Act’s requirements.
This month, the Supreme Judicial Court heard oral argument in Graham v. District Attorney for Hampden County, a case raising the questions of whether the Commonwealth has a duty to investigate the Springfield Police Department (SPD),what that duty entails, and what evidentiary disclosures state prosecutors must make about any exculpatory evidence that prosecution teams may have in events involving the police department. The decision will have significant implications for defendants wrongfully convicted of crimes based on false reports filed by police officers justifying use of force against defendants. CONTINUE READING ›
Over the last several years, it has become increasingly common to send or request nude or intimate images in the context of personal relationships. However, it is important that all parties to sexting and similar activities be consenting adults. (Sexual photos of minors under 18 are considered child pornography under state and federal law, much to the surprise of many teenagers.) If a former romantic partner, hacker, or other individual distributes such photos without consent, or threatens to do so, the subject of the photo is considered a victim of “sextortion” or “revenge porn.” Different states have adopted different approaches to these phenomena, and past proposed legislation in Massachusetts on this subject has not passed, leaving revenge porn victims with few options in this Commonwealth.
This is a follow up to a previous blog about clemency: you can read that post here.
Last month, Governor Maura Healey recommended seven individuals to the Governor’s Council for pardons and on July 19, 2023, the Governor’s Council unanimously voted in favor of all seven pardons. A pardon is complete forgiveness of the underlying convicted offense, which erases the crime from an individual’s criminal record. These pardons make Governor Healey the first Governor in Massachusetts in over thirty years to successfully grant pardons during her first year elected. These seven pardons also mark the highest number of pardons granted by a Massachusetts Governor in their first term in over forty years.
Criminal records can have a devastating impact on access to life-affirming resources such as housing and employment. To address this issue, Massachusetts has steadily passed legislation that has made it easier for people to seal their records. My colleague has previously written about CORI reform law, including the 2018 legislation, and the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) decision in Commonwealth v. Pon, which made it easier for people to seal their criminal records under M.G.L. c. 276, § 100C by laying out six factors for judges to evaluate whether there is “good cause” to seal the criminal records as discussed in our previous blog post.
Considerable data shows that police stop Black people in the U.S. much more frequently than white people. At least some of these stops are motivated by racial profiling, implicit or explicit, in violation of the constitutional guarantee of equal protection. But how, in practice, can a Black defendant establish that the stop in his or her case was racially motivated—and use this fact to defeat a criminal charge?
Since its 2008 decision in Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court has been expanding the understanding of the constitutional right to bear arms under the Second Amendment. Heller held that the Second Amendment right is individual, and not limited to the context of an organized, “well-regulated militia.” In 2010, the Court held in McDonald that the right to bear arms applies to the states, not just against the federal government. Both Heller and McDonald addressed the context of keeping a firearm for self-defense in the home. But in the 2022 case of Bruen, the Supreme Court extended that right beyond the home, to include carrying a firearm in public, at least under some circumstances. State courts and legislatures are still grappling with the consequences of that decision.
Last week saw a wave of legal developments—legislative, jurisprudential, and administrative—on issues related to trans rights. While state legislatures passed laws restricting medical care for transgender minors, and barring trans women and girls from participating in school sports, federal appellate courts upheld the rights of transgender students and the Biden administration weighed in on the trans athlete issue. On April 6 the Supreme Court refused to lift a ban imposed by the Fourth Circuit on the enforcement of a West Virginia law that would prevent transgender students from competing on sports teams that corresponded to their gender while litigation about the constitutionality of the law is pending. West Virginia was attempting to enforce that law against a 12-year-old girl who wanted to run track at her middle school. That same day the U.S. Department of Education released a proposed rule that would address transgender students’ athletic participation. That rule, however, far from protecting trans students’ right to be treated equally to other members of their gender, would only prohibit a school from imposing a blanket ban on students’ participation in sports that corresponded to their genders. Schools would retain the authority to restrict trans athletes’ participation in sports if they could show that the restriction is “substantially related to the achievement of an important educational objective and (ii) minimize[s] harms to students whose opportunity to participate on a male or female team consistent with their gender identity would be limited or denied.”