How Long Do Schools Have to Complete their Title IX Investigation?
| Title IX|
Colleges, universities, and other educational institutions have a legal duty to prevent sex-based discrimination and sexual harassment. Indeed, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 strictly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in all schools and educational programs that receive any type of federal funding.
When discrimination or harassment complaints are filed, schools have an obligation to complete a fair and thorough investigation. Under federal regulations, Title IX investigations must be completed in a “prompt” manner.
You may be wondering: How long should a Title IX investigation take? The short answer is that a typical investigation lasts for approximately 60 days—but, an investigation may take longer based on the complexity of the allegations. Here, our Connecticut Title IX consulting attorney discusses how long schools have to conduct their Title IX investigations and the potential implications of going too fast or too slow.
Title IX Investigations: The Standard
All students deserve an educational environment that is free from any type of unlawful discrimination, including sexual harassment. As noted by the Department of Education (DOE) Office for Civil Rights, all schools that receive federal financial assistance have a responsibility to handle Title IX complaints in a proactive and responsive manner. Some complaints may be resolved on an informal basis—meaning no formal investigation is required. However, if the informal process is not successful, the right to a formal process can then be invoked at which time a school has the legal duty to conduct a fair, efficient, and thorough investigation.
Every Title IX investigation must be completed in a timely manner. Based on the experience of the DOE’s Office for Civil Rights, “a typical investigation takes approximately 60 calendar days following receipt of the complaint.” If you are thinking about how long an investigation should take, this is the best available benchmark. Investigations should generally be on track to be completed around two months from the date the complaint was submitted. That being said, there are some exceptions.
The Length of Title IX Investigations: Specific Circumstances Always Matter
While a 60-day investigation is a standard investigation, there is no rule requiring that all Title IX investigations be completed within this time period. Quite the contrary; the DOE Office for Civil Rights clearly states that the length of an investigation can and should vary depending on the underlying complexity of the allegations. An investigation that takes longer than 60 days—potentially even quite a bit longer—may still be a timely investigation if the case was unusually complex, involved multiple incidents, complainants, and/or witnesses, or if there were other extenuating factors.
Schools Should Proactively Investigate Complaints, But Context Can Slow Down the Process
As an example of circumstances that can impact the length of a Title IX investigation, consider a hypothetical case in which a college student is arrested and charged with sexual assault against another student. The Department of Education states that a school should not delay conducting its own Title IX investigation even though law enforcement is involved. There is still a Title IX violation at issue.
However, the DOE also acknowledges that a police investigation may temporarily hinder and delay the fact-finding portion of a school’s investigation, thereby lengthening the amount of time it will take to complete a comprehensive Title IX investigation. In this type of case, a 60-day timeframe may not be possible. A longer investigation may still be a timely investigation given the specific circumstances.
The bottom line: Under Title IX, students and employees are entitled to a timely and comprehensive investigation of their complaint. While 60 calendar days serves as a good baseline for the length of a typical investigation, complex investigations may require additional time. (NOTE: This all refers to completion of the investigation in 60 days as a benchmark, yet I believe we should be referring to it as completion of the investigation AND the administrative process as being completed within the 60 days as the benchmark.)
How Does a Title IX Investigation Work?
In many ways, Title IX investigations are similar to other types of investigations. A formal and systematic approach is taken to uncover evidence and determine what happened and why it happened. The Title IX investigative process is broken down into several phases, including:
- Notification to the parties
- Gathering of facts, documents, and records
- Review and analysis of the evidence
- Determination of whether or not violations occurred
- Drafting of a final report
For an investigation to be fair and proper, it is important that each stage of the Title IX process is thorough and accurate. Of course, each stage is also going to take some time, but the law requires a “prompt” completion of the inquiry. Remember, under Title IX, the term prompt does not have a single definition. What qualifies as a prompt investigation depends on the specific facts of the case.
A Rushed or Delayed Investigation May Be a Title IX Violation
A comprehensive, timely investigation is crucial to protect the rights of both the complainant and the respondent. Whether you were a victim or accused of discrimination harassment, or sexual misconduct, you deserve a fair and reliable investigation without it being rushed or without any unreasonable or unwarranted delay. Process matters. All schools that receive federal financial assistance have a duty to their students and employees to investigate Title IX complaints promptly, thoroughly, and fairly.
Should a delay occur, critically important evidence could be lost. The evidence could be important for either party. Delay may amount to a violation of the rights of the complainant or the respondent. At the same time, a rushed investigation could also undermine the rights of all parties. For schools and educational institutions, a botched or sloppy investigation could result in very serious sanctions against the institution. In the worst cases, a school could even lose access to its federal funding.
Speak to Our Connecticut Title IX Attorney for Immediate Assistance
At Duffy Law, our Connecticut Title IX lawyers have experience advising students, faculty, and educational institutions on a wide range of matters. If you have any questions or concerns about the length of a Title IX investigation or the process in general, we are here to offer guidance and support. To request your fully confidential initial consultation, please contact our law firm today. From our New Haven law office, we provide nationwide representation in Title IX claims.