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Title IX & Student Conduct Code Blog

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Are Title IX Complaints Public?

Title IX complaints can be difficult and anxiety-inducing for the complainant and the respondent in any case, and many fears surrounding the Title IX process at a college or university involve concerns about confidentiality. Parties in the case want to know if their names can be released in an ongoing Title IX investigation, or after the process has concluded. All parties involved in the case, including those in the investigation, also frequently want to know if the information they provide or disclose will become part of a public record, or if any of the details of the Title IX investigation can become available to the public.

Generally speaking, Title IX complaints are not public, but information concerning Title IX cases can become public knowledge in certain circumstances. Depending upon the Code of Conduct at a particular institution, disclosing information to the public about a Title IX case could result in a Code of Conduct violation and subsequent proceedings against a student. Our national Title IX lawyers have extensive experience navigating the complicated world of Title IX complaints and confidentiality issues.

Confidentiality in Title IX Complaints

In order to understand general issues of confidentiality in Title IX complaints, it is important to learn more about how these claims get filed and where information is housed. Generally speaking, a Title IX complaint will get filed with the college or university where the alleged sexual misconduct occurred.  A Title IX complaint that is filed at a college or university is not a lawsuit. Accordingly, the fact that many lawsuits are public record is not applicable to a Title IX case.

The Department of Education has clarified that a school may not disclose the identity of the parties in a Title IX case to anyone not involved in the school disciplinary process  and therefore they are confidential unless there is an applicable FERPA exception. According to a DOE Question and Answer document, “FERPA permits but does not require the nonconsensual disclosure of records by postsecondary educational institutions in connection with disciplinary proceedings concerning crimes of violence or non-forcible sex offenses.” The DOE clarifies that there are three specific exceptions in which a person’s identity may be disclosed:

  • FERPA allows for the identity to be disclosed
  • Identity of the complainant or respondent is required by law
  • Disclosure is necessary to carry out the purposes of Title IX

Even if one of the exceptions applies, a person’s identity still cannot be disclosed for a retaliatory purpose. Title IX does not explicitly require information contained in a Title IX investigation to remain confidential, and a person may be able to obtain some information about an internal investigation by making a request through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Many colleges and universities require parties involved in Title IX complaint processes to maintain confidentiality, and the failure to do so, unless an exception applies, may result in a Code of Conduct Violation.

When a complainant wants to make a Title IX complaint for purposes of obtaining support and wants to remain anonymous, the complainant may do so. However, the DOE clarifies that a formal complaint process cannot occur—and a formal Title IX investigation cannot occur—unless the complainant discloses his or her identity, the identity of the alleged perpetrator, and details about the alleged sexual misconduct.

FOIA Requests and Title IX Cases

Whether a college or university where the complaint has been filed is a public or private institution may impact the type of information that can be obtained through a FOIA request, but at private institutions, information from Title IX complaints may not be released through FOIA requests in order to protect the privacy of parties involved in the complaint. According to a report from Yale Daily News, “FOIA requests for Title IX are usually denied to protect the privacy of any victims of sexual misconduct who may act as cosignatories.” In situations where a university or another party does obtain a Title IX complaint through a FOIA request, it may not be able to disclose information to the public without obtaining permission from the parties involved.

Even when some information is made available after a FOIA request, FERPA can protect the identities of the parties involved. To be clear, the identities of the parties involved in a Title IX case are almost always private and kept confidential (unless there is permission in some situations), but other information contained in a Title IX case may be available to the public with a FOIA request or by other means when exceptions apply. Students who have questions about maintaining confidentiality should learn the specific rules in their college or university Code of Conduct, and should speak with a lawyer about options to keep their case confidential.

Code of Conduct Violations for Disclosing Title IX Case Information

Some institutions require confidentiality in sexual misconduct cases in a Code of Conduct, particularly as investigations are ongoing. For instance, the Williams College Code of Conduct informs students that they are “bound by confidentiality obligations during the process of investigation and adjudication,” and allows for information concerning the case to be disclosed only if one of the following exceptions applies:

  • Student discussing their experience with someone in health services
  • Student discussing their experience with someone who serves in a professional religious capacity
  • Student discussing the case with an advisor, as long as the advisor is aware of responsibilities of confidentiality
  • Student discussing the case with their parents
  • Student discussing the case as necessary to be involved in an investigation and adjudication process

Many institutions also distinguish between confidentiality and privacy. For example, a State University of New York (SUNY) Broome Community College information sheet for Title IX reporting suggests that information obtained through a formal Title IX investigation may not be kept confidential, but will be kept private. SUNY Broome indicates that “privacy” means confidentiality pertaining to certain information may not be possible, but anyone involved in the Title IX case “will maintain privacy to the greatest extent possible, and information disclosed will be relayed only as necessary to investigate and/or seek a resolution and to notify the Title IX Coordinator or designee, who is responsible for tracking patterns and spotting systemic issues.”

Contact Our National Title IX Attorneys Today

If you have any questions or concerns about confidentiality in Title IX cases, an experienced national Title IX lawyer at Duffy Law can speak with you today. We have extensive experience working on Title IX cases at colleges and universities, and we can provide you with more information about rights and responsibilities concerning confidentiality under Title IX. Contact Duffy Law to learn more about how we can assist you.

Felice Duffy

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Attorney At Duffy Law

Attorney Felice Duffy served as an Assistant United States Attorney for ten years after beginning her legal career at two prestigious firms (one in CT and one in NY) and then clerking for two federal judges. A life-long Title IX advocate, she brought a legal action under the then-new Title IX statute against UCONN while an undergraduate to compel the creation of its women’s varsity soccer program. She went on to become a first-team Division I All-American, was selected to be on the first U.S. National Women’s Team, and spent 10 years as Head Coach of the Yale women's soccer team. Attorney Duffy has Ph.D. in Education/Sports Psychology and has spoken to, and conducted trainings for, over 50 schools and organizations on a wide range of topics involving athletics, the law, and social justice. You can reach Felice at (203) 946-2000.