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How Long Do Schools Have to Complete their Title IX Investigation?

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.)

The Title IX Investigation Process

In many ways, Title IX investigations are similar to other types of investigations. The person or team undertaking the investigation is expected to take a formal and systematic approach to uncover evidence that can be used to determine what happened and possibly why it happened. 

In actuality, of course, the investigation may not be formal or systematic, and it may not be well-documented. It is important to determine what happened during an investigation almost as much as to determine what happened during the incident at issue. An improperly-conducted investigation can provide grounds for an appeal or change in outcome.

A Title IX investigative process should be broken down into several phases. While each step should be thorough, schools need to balance the need for depth against the need to complete the process in a “prompt” manner.

Each institution may refer to the phases in a Title IX investigation by differing terms. Generally, the process should include:

  • Notification to the parties
  • Gathering of facts, documents, and records
  • Review and analysis of the evidence
  • Determination of whether or not violations occurred
  • Sending notice of the outcome

It is helpful to examine each one of these stages to see what they should include.

Receiving Notice of Violation

When a complaint is made and student is charged with a violation of Title IX or school policy, the school should provide notice of the charge. This should include precise information about the rule that was allegedly violated.

However, notice is often provided verbally and in an informal manner that does not provide the right information to start preparing an appropriate defensive strategy. For instance, a student might first learn of a potential violation when they are questioned by campus police. If this occurs, it is a good idea to consult an experienced attorney for advice on the best way to handle the situation going forward. Any statements or actions could be used against you in a way that you may not anticipate. If a formal complaint has been filed, the institution is required to send an appropriate written notice to both the complainant and the respondent.

After receiving notice, it is important to get a copy of the policies of the institution in effect at the time the violation allegedly occurred.

Fact Gathering

The individual or team tasked with the investigation should then start collecting documents, records, and other evidence that could support or refute the allegations in the case. Investigators will interview the complainant, respondent, and witnesses. In addition, they should be gathering information such as phone logs, visual recordings, photos,  social media posts, and emails.

Both the complainant and respondent have a legal right to collect their own evidence, and it is in their best interests to do so. School investigations can be biased or rushed and overlook crucial evidence.

Information Review and Analysis

The investigator then needs to review all the evidence in totality to accurately present all evidence, both good and bad for each party.  The investigator must provide the evidence for review and response by both parties before completing the investigation. Once the responses are in and considered by the investigator, a final report must be prepared. Once the final report is prepared, the institution should send a written notification to both the complainant and respondent. 

The Hearing 

In colleges, a hearing must be scheduled, but the new proposed Title IX regulations will return to a standard where schools may decide whether to conduct a hearing or resolve complaints without a formal hearing. At the hearing, the hearing officer(s) review the report and then listen to the parties and witnesses to make their own determination about credibility and  responsibility. 

Depending on the rules in force at the time, a complainant or respondent may be allowed to have an attorney conduct the questioning of the parties and witnesses. Even if the complainant or respondent  must appear on their own and make all statements on their own, an experienced legal advisor can help with preparation by reviewing expected questions and ways to answer questions in a manner that cannot be misinterpreted against their interests.

Notice of Hearing Outcome

The decisionmaker at the institution should then make determinations about what occurred, whether the incidents resulted in a violation, and what the penalty should be if the respondent is held responsible. All the information should be written up in a final formal outcome letter.

This information should include the outcome of the investigation,the analysis of the evidence and rationale for the determination and the penalty,  information about the next steps in the process if the complainant or respondent wishes to appeal the outcome, and a copy of the outcome letter.

Factors to Keep in Mind

Each stage of the Title IX process should be both prompt and complete. Although the term “prompt” does not have a single definition, it should provide adequate notice for a student to protect their rights and appeal a decision.

After the outcome, students may have opportunities to appeal the findings or the penalties through an administrative process on campus. Title IX does not require schools to establish an appeals process, but most institutions do provide for at least a limited appeal. These rules will specify the grounds on which an appeal may be based. For instance, the rules might allow an appeal based on a finding of new evidence that was not available earlier but not allow for an appeal based on evidence that was readily available but had not been introduced.

Once appeals on campus are exhausted, the case is over at the institution. A complainant or respondent retains the right to file a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights or a civil lawsuit.

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.

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.