In 1972, Congress passed legislation referred to as “Title IX” to prevent discrimination based on gender in federally-funded educational programs. Specifically, the legislation prohibits colleges, high schools, and other educational institutions from discriminating against someone in education or extra-curricular activities based solely on whether that person is male or female.
Title IX only applies to activities or programs fully or partially funded by the federal government. This includes post-secondary institutions and school districts as well as federally-funded educational activities at museums, libraries, for-profit schools, and charter schools. All educational programs receiving federal funding must not discriminate based on gender in the following areas:
- financial assistance
- treatment of pregnant students or students with minor children
- single-sex education
Additionally, a person representing an agency that receives federal funds may not retaliate against a student, faculty member, or other person who complains about an unlawful practice in education or who testified or otherwise participated in a complaint action.
Understanding Department of Education Guidance Documents
On April 4th, 2011 the Office for Civil Rights within in the U.S. Department of Education issued a significant guidance document interpreting the Title IX legislation. This “Dear Colleague Letter” explained that schools and other organizations receiving federal funding have a legal obligation to respond to any claims made about sexual violence or sexual harassment in educational programs. The letter meant that schools must investigate any claims received, independent of an investigation made by local police.
The 2011 “Dear Colleague Letter” was rescinded by the Department of Education in September 2017. It was replaced by interim guidance called “Q&A on Campus Sexual Misconduct”, which supplements the Revised Sexual Harassment Guidance (2001) previously issued by the Office for Civil Rights within the Department of Education.
Defining School Sexual Violence and Harassment
Because the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter was only recently rescinded, most colleges and university procedures still incorporate the standards found in that document. The 2011 Dear Colleague Letter refers only to sexual violence and harassment between students such as assault, rape, or another type of misconduct that prevents the victim from fully participating in an educational program. The school administration is guilty of a Title IX violation if it fails to investigate claims of sexual violence or sexual harassment and enforce corrective action against the perpetrator. The failure to investigate or take corrective action could subject the school to the loss of federal funds. The penalties for the person accused of sexual misconduct on campus can be severe (up to and including expulsion) if they are found in violation of the policy.
Unfortunately, some schools rush to investigate claims. This can cause significant hardship when the accused person is not guilty. Although it is right and fair that schools should investigate all sexual misconduct allegations and conduct hearings, it is equally important that both investigations and hearings are fair to the accused person.
Possible Outcomes of an Improper Investigation or Hearing
Usually, and understandably, a school administration office wants to avoid appearing unsympathetic to sexual assault or harassment victims, or to seem like it covered up sexual misconduct. However, this does not mean that it is right to rush procedure and accuse someone of misconduct without a thorough, fair, and impartial investigation being conducted first. With the right experienced legal guidance, you can ensure that you are treated fairly throughout the process. Besides expulsion, students who are found guilty of a violation can be made to attend alcohol classes, therapy, and/or receive reprimands that will remain in their file. If a violation is severe enough, the student could face expulsion even when the local police simultaneously decline to press charges in the case. When the local police open a concurrent investigation, it is especially important to have an attorney on your side who can guide you through the process and protect your rights.
A student who is found guilty of a violation will face consequences for years. If expelled, you may find that other universities assume you committed the crime you were accused of and will not accept you as a transfer student. When no school will allow you to complete your degree, it could severely limit your future job prospects and ability to earn an income. Short of expulsion, a finding of responsibility for a policy violation affects your ability for furthering your education and harms your reputation, as you may be required to disclose your violation to all graduate, medical, and/or law schools as part of an application process.
Hire a Title IX Defense Attorney as Quickly as Possible
You have the right to have a legal advisor assist you in preparing formal responses to the allegations, to be present at the disciplinary hearing, and to act as a guide throughout the Title IX process. We highly recommend that you exercise this right. At St. John, Bowling, Lawrence & Quagliana, LLP, we will work with you to obtain the following:
- Collect additional evidence that proves your version of events
- Consider a variety of defenses for the sexual misconduct you are accused of committing
- Obtain official statements from witnesses
- Understand the official consent policy at your school to determine if you really did breach it
- Work with Title IX investigators to ensure a thorough, fair, and unbiased investigation is conducted
When something as serious as your future and reputation is on the line in a Title IX investigation, you cannot take the chance of representing yourself. The victim, his or her attorney, and school administrators will all be there to present evidence. In such an emotionally charged environment, it is important to have an attorney there to help guide your response.
Our law firm is also available to represent you when you believe that your school has violated your rights under Title IX by not completing a thorough investigation that comports with your due process rights. We will help you explore several potential options, including suing the university for improper punishment and damage to your reputation.
Title IX Cases Are Often Complicated
Although federal law allows you to sue as a private party for injunctive relief and monetary damages, doing so is often more complex than you might expect. As experienced civil rights attorneys in Charlottesville, Virginia, we have represented many people facing the same types of charges as you. We understand the regulations, defenses, and other special nuances of Title IX and will use this deep knowledge to your advantage. Please contact us at 434-296-7138 to request a legal review of your case today.