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What is Title IX?

Title IX, passed as part of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, holds that no educational institution or program receiving federal funds can discriminate against anyone on the basis of sex. The interpretation of this legislation was later expanded to hold that schools have a responsibility to properly respond to any complaints of sex-based discrimination, including sexual assault, stalking, or intimate partner violence.

What Institutions Does Title IX Cover?

Title IX applies to any schools that receive federal funds. This includes the vast majority of secondary schools, and colleges, and universities. Private schools are covered as well if they participate in federal financial aid programs or otherwise receive federal funds.

Students, faculty, and employees at these schools are all covered by Title IX.

What Offenses Are Covered Under Title IX?

While Title IX is best known for its role in preventing gender inequality in sports programs, it also covers any discrimination based on sex, whether against women, men, or LGBT individuals. Discrimination includes sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, intimate partner violence, and stalking. Some offenses may rise to the level of criminal conduct, and a criminal investigation can take place alongside a school’s Title IX investigation.

How Do I Report a Title IX Violation?

Any students or employees at a college or university can file a complaint if they are subject to conduct prohibited under Title IX. Every school must have a Title IX Coordinator and a procedure in place for receiving and investigating complaints.

Complaints are typically made regarding an incident that occurred on campus, although they can also relate to incidents at off-campus locations, such as programs or events sponsored by a college or university. Even events out of school hours or away from school grounds may be investigated by the school if a Title IX violation interferes with the victim’s education.

Complaints are most often filed by the victim of an alleged Title IX violation. But anyone can also file a complaint on behalf of someone else.

What Does “Responsible” or “Not Responsible” Mean in Title IX Proceedings?

These terms are part of the legal jargon that has grown up around Title IX proceedings in the so-called campus “judiciaries.” The purpose of a Title IX proceeding is to decide whether the accused student is “responsible” or “not responsible” for the Title IX violation he or she is accused of.

“Responsible” is equivalent to being found “guilty” in a criminal proceeding; and “not responsible” is equivalent to being “acquitted.”

What Are the Consequences If I Am Found Responsible of a Title IX Violation?

School officials will decide what punishment is appropriate if you are found “responsible.” The OCR has said that any sanctions should be proportional to the violation and must carefully consider the impact on your education. In practice, schools often act to protect themselves and their reputations, but it is also frequently the case that administrators will work with students to protect their education.Some sanctions may be as mild as a written warning or academic probation. If investigators determine that a more serious offense has occurred, schools will levy harsher punishments such as suspension, expulsion, or, for employees, termination of employment.

How Are Title IX Complaints Resolved?

There are no specific rules for how a Title IX complaint is resolved. The Department of Education requires that every college or university have a process for addressing sexual assault and other Title IX violations, but it does not specifically dictate what a school must do. As such, each school is free to develop its own proceedings for Title IX matters. These procedures are provided in the school’s handbooks and policy manuals and are almost always available on the internet. Regulations governing Title IX require schools to give everyone adequate notice of what these policies are and what they can expect in a Title IX proceeding.

Is a Formal Process Required?

Title IX matters are sometimes resolved informally through mediation or similar processes. However, informal resolutions may not be available for all offenses. Some schools bar them outright.

In 2011, the OCR stated that mediation is not appropriate where there are allegations of sexual assault, and in response, many schools took a hard line banning mediation after 2011. In 2017, however, the OCR made clear that mediation and other forms of informal resolution may be explored if the parties wish to voluntarily resolve their dispute.

What Can I Expect in a Title IX Investigation?

Typically, a school launches an investigation after it receives a complaint of sexual misconduct. During this process, both the accuser (called the “reporting party”) and the accused (called the “responding party”) provide a statement. They may introduce evidence, and identify witnesses to speak with investigators.You should expect to be interviewed, often more than once. Statements you make to friends or family can also come to the attention of the investigator and inconsistencies will count against your credibility. A consistent account of events, on the other hand, will tend to bolster your credibility.

Can I Appeal a Decision Reached by the Campus “Judiciary”?

Yes.Schools give students or employees accused of Title IX violations the opportunity to appeal the investigation’s finding. Unlike a criminal or civil trial, the alleged victim may also appeal a decision, for example, if they believe that a sanction was too lenient.

School policies often specify the precise grounds on which an appeal may be allowed. Just because you disagree with a decision may not be enough. Grounds to appeal include:

  • Procedural error: The school did not follow procedures and the misapplication of their own procedures led to a wrong outcome.
  • New evidence: Evidence previously unavailable will potentially change the outcome.
  • Disproportionate sanctions: A sanction is too harsh or too lenient given the nature of the misconduct.

What if the School Ignores the Evidence, its Policies, and Comes to the Wrong Conclusion?

Ultimately, you have recourse to the federal courts. In some cases, a school intentionally looks the other way at discrimination. They can be held liable for allowing a hostile environment. In other cases, a school’s “judiciary” displays bias in applying its policies. They can be held liable for “erroneous outcome” and “selective enforcement” of their policies, if you can show that the bias was motivated by sex stereotypes or other intentional discrimination.

Where schools violate your rights by failing to follow their own policies, you can also sue the university for breach of contract and other claims. You can eventually win money damages.

Litigation, however, usually takes a substantial investment of resources and time, with no guarantee of success.

What Can a Lawyer Do For Me?

Whether you are filing a Title IX complaint with the school or whether you are the accused student, a lawyer can help ensure that a college or university follows its own policies and procedures and treats you fairly. A lawyer will also ensure that you receive due process during the investigation of a complaint and other proceedings.

In addition, an attorney will help you navigate the investigation process, gather evidence, understand your rights, and craft a consistent, accurate statement to give to investigators.

Even where a school will not allow you to be represented in university proceedings by an attorney—for example, some non-Title IX misconduct cases—you can still benefit from the advice of counsel. An experienced attorney can guide you through the process and help you prepare for interviews with university administrators and make sure you present your side of the story as effectively and credibly as possible.

What Defenses Are Available for a Person Accused of a Title IX Violation?

The defenses available to a person accused in a Title IX matter vary depending on the charge and the circumstances surrounding the incident. The evidence is often the best defense: Text messages may show a genuine misunderstanding of the accusing student, or that you were not present at the time and place where the violation occurred. In some cases, other witnesses or evidence may show that the accuser is filing a complaint with malicious intent.

One of your best defenses should also be the process itself. If a university refuses to follow its own rules, this is grounds to attack their ultimate decision in your case.

Likewise, for victims of sexual misconduct, the process should protect you too. You have the most at stake. The last thing you want is a school that ignores its own rules, finds a perpetrator responsible, but then has the decision undone when the school’s procedural mistakes are exposed and challenged. The entire exhausting and emotionally draining experience then comes to nothing and becomes an added insult to your dignity and person.

Anyone party to a Title IX proceeding has the right to present their case and their evidence to investigators. The school’s policies may guarantee you additional rights, and you typically have additional rights under state and federal laws. Accused parties may also be able to file defamation claims if the school or another party intentionally spreads false information.

You may also have a viable defense in disability law. If you have a disability, you are entitled to reasonable accommodations in the process and procedures applied by the university. Some disabilities, if not brought to light, may cause an investigator or hearing panel to think you are not being honest, when what they are actually seeing is a manifestation of your disability triggered by the extreme stress of an investigation.

An experienced attorney can inform you of applicable defenses related to your case.

What Can I Do if the University Finds Me Responsible for Title IX Sexual Misconduct?

Although each school’s Title IX process is different, you will usually be given a chance to appeal the finding of the investigation. You must act immediately because usually an appeal can only be lodged within 3-5 days of the school’s decision. You should know, however, that appeals within the campus “judiciary” system are almost never successful. Campus administrators who consider appeals almost always uphold the initial findings.

Unfortunately, your only remaining remedy may be to file a lawsuit against the school.