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Title IX & Student Conduct Code Blog

Duffy Law

Formal vs. Informal Complaints

Sex discrimination, including sexual harassment, can destroy a person’s ability to access educational opportunities. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal law that provides critically important legal protections against this type of discrimination. Among other things, the law requires all schools that receive any form of federal financial assistance to administer a fair and thorough complaint process.

Recognizing the wide spectrum of conduct that can violate Title IX, an informal process may be appropriate in some cases. This raises an important question: What is the difference between a formal and an informal process? Here, our Title IX lawyers provide an overview of the key differences between informal and formal options, and we explain what issues should be considered when choosing what type of  process to invoke.

What is an Informal Title IX Complaint Process?

Sex discrimination comes in a wide range of different forms from modest, but still impactful incidents, to felony criminal acts. Title IX allows certain acts of discrimination or harassment to be addressed through an informal resolution process and schools may elect to include an informal complaint process, which most do, and define that informal process as each school prefers.  Typically, an informal complaint process is a fully voluntary, structured interaction between the parties that is designed to help them address and resolve an issue at the earliest stage possible. Informal resolutions are flexible meaning the process can move forward in many different ways. As a general rule an informal complaint process:

  • Will not receive a comprehensive investigation
  • Can be kept fully confidential; and
  • Will not be referred for official disciplinary action if an agreement between the parties and the school is reached.

As described in an article published in Yale Alumni Magazine, informal complaints may eventually result in counseling, education, or mutual avoidance as part of no-contact agreement. The remedy, which typically does not include official discipline, will be dependent on the specific nature of the case.

Not All Issues Can or Should be Handled Informally

To be clear, an informal process is not appropriate in all cases. Indeed, informal processes generally cannot be used in cases involving allegations of sexual assault or dating violence. Beyond that, the victims of sex discrimination or sexual harassment should never feel pressured into using the informal process. It is a voluntary process meaning you always retain the right to withdraw without an agreement or to proceed with an immediate formal process. That being said, if the informal complaint process does reach its completion, the matter will be deemed closed.

What is a Formal Title IX Complaint?

As was mentioned, the informal process is simply not appropriate for all Title IX complaints. The victim of sex discrimination or sexual harassment may be better served by participating in a formal process. In this type of process, complaints will be investigated and can be referred for disciplinary action. Under Title IX, the formal complaint process can be initiated by:

  • A complainant (victim) or sexual harassment or a third party reporting a violation
  • the school can initiate a formal process even if the victim or complainant does not wat to if the conduct causes a safety concern at the school

In the majority of cases, formal processes are only initiated if the victim (complainant) wants to move forward with the process. However, an institution’s Title IX office can step in and assume the role of the complainant if the individual cannot or will not proceed and/or if there is a deeper threat to the community.

The Formal Process is Highly Structured

One of the key differences between an informal s and a formal process is that the formal process is far more rigid. Here are five key elements of the typical formal process under Title IX:

  1. Complaint: A written complaint must be submitted, and the respondent must receive notice of the allegations.
  2. Investigation: An investigator will be appointed to handle the matter and investigation will be conducted. In most cases, the investigation will include the gathering of evidence and the interviewing of witnesses.
  3. Report: The investigator’s initial report will be shared with each party before it is finished. At that point, they will be given an opportunity to respond. After the responses are received and reviewed, a final report of the investigation will be issued.
  4. Panel: A panel will be convened to review the case. Parties will have an opportunity to provide statements and evidence to the panel.
  5. Decision: The hearing panel must determine if the respondent violated the institution’s rules by a preponderance of the evidence. If the panel finds that a violation occurred, the panel will need to decide on the appropriate sanctions there will be the issuance sanctions.

How Title IX Attorneys at Duffy Law Can Help

Many people, both students and employees, are not fully aware of how to exercise their legal rights under Title IX. At Duffy Law, we help clients evaluate the pros and cons of proceeding with an informal or formal process. We know that every Title IX complaint is unique. You deserve personalized legal guidance. When you call our office, you will speak to an experienced Title IX complaint lawyer who is prepared to:

  • Conduct a comprehensive and confidential review of your case
  • Answer your questions and advise you of your options
  • Investigate the matter and secure relevant evidence; and
  • Take the appropriate legal action to protect your rights

We understand the complex, sensitive nature of Title IX complaints. Using our collective experience, our lawyers work tirelessly to make sure that our clients’ rights and interests are protected whether through an informal or formal process or taking any other action to address the Title IX case.

Call Our Connecticut Title IX Complaint Attorney Today

At Duffy Law, our Connecticut Title IX lawyers have experience representing complainants across a wide range of cases. We have a unique view of all sides of the legal process. In fact, as a student, Attorney Felice Duffy even participated in a claim herself.

If you have any questions or concerns about filing a Title IX complaint or choosing the appropriate process, we are here to help. To set up a strictly confidential consultation with an experienced attorney, please do not hesitate to contact us today. From our location in New Haven, we represent clients in Connecticut and nationwide.

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.