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Title IX & Student Conduct Code Blog

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How to Appeal a Title IX Decision

If you want to appeal a Title IX decision on campus, you need to act quickly. The time limit for filing an appeal is often relatively short, and you will need to prepare your arguments carefully.

Advice from an experienced attorney can help you find the proper grounds to appeal the ruling and persuade authorities to change the outcome. If the case continues with criminal or civil court action, a legal advisor who understands student defense can lay the groundwork to put you in the best position to reach a positive outcome.

Why an Appeal is So Critical

Many people feel that Title IX proceedings on a college or university campus are unimportant because they don’t involve the police or government judicial services. However, the results of an unfavorable school disciplinary proceeding can have far-reaching negative effects that may not be apparent at first glance.

Even a minor negative mark on the record of a student or faculty member can prevent acceptance on other campuses for additional studies or job prospects in the future. If the record includes sanctions for serious misconduct such as sexual assault, the penalties can include suspension or expulsion. A student may not be accepted anywhere else, so educational and employment prospects could be severely restricted. The stigma could haunt the respondent for the rest of their life. To prevent that, it is important to put all possible efforts into a strategic appeal.

Guidance from the U.S. Department of Education

The Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education issues critical regulations interpreting Title IX requirements for colleges and universities. Schools risk considerable loss if they don’t comply with regulations, so sometimes, they go overboard out of an abundance of caution.

The difficulty for schools in the past few years, however, is that different political administrations have changed guidelines drastically back and forth, and these regulations have then been challenged in court. Schools are sometimes left guessing what standards they need to impose to follow guidelines while still avoiding lawsuits.

Since the guidelines are about to change once again, it is hard to know whether schools will be required to allow both parties the right to appeal a decision. Generally, schools are required to implement equal appeal procedures and provide notification to one party when the other files an appeal.

Appeals Procedures on Campus

Colleges and universities are allowed to establish their own procedures for appealing Title IX decisions so long as those procedures fit the current regulatory guidelines. So it is critical for a complainant or respondent who wants to file an appeal to first examine the school’s appeal policies. If the policies themselves are unfair or violate current guidelines, legal action may be necessary to gain the opportunity for a fair appeal.

It is important to pay attention to the timeline for appeals outlined in school policies. Often the time limit is quite short. To file an effective appeal, a student or staff member must comply with deadlines, notification requirements, and other rules or the school may not be required to consider the appeal.

Grounds for an Appeal

Schools also have a certain amount of freedom to determine the grounds for hearing an appeal. These should be stated in school policies. However, they are generally expected to include the right to an appeal if one party alleges one of the following:

  • A procedural irregularity affected the outcome
  • New evidence has come to light that was not reasonably available earlier and that evidence could affect the outcome
  • The person coordinating the investigation or adjudicating the case had a bias or conflict of interest that affected the outcome 

Schools are not required to allow appeals on the grounds that the severity of the penalty is out of proportion to the seriousness of the offense. They are also not required to allow someone to appeal just because they don’t like the outcome. Some schools may allow appeals on these grounds or on the grounds that a decision was not based on substantial evidence. Many schools, however, allow appeals only on the three very limited grounds outlined above.

Before filing an appeal, it is vital to ensure that written submissions thoroughly explain grounds for an appeal that are permissible under school policies. If somebody appealing a decision fails to cite proper grounds for an appeal, the tribunal can refuse to consider it.

Appealing an Appeal

In terms of proceedings on campus, if an appeal is rejected or denied, the matter becomes final as a school matter. However, a party can file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights. Additionally, a student may obtain relief by filing a lawsuit, particularly if the proceedings violated due process rights or federal guidelines.

Students and staff often have certain due process rights in Title IX proceedings, but those rights are not necessarily the same as they would be in a criminal matter handled by the courts. For instance, cross-examination rights may not be guaranteed by current federal policies or provided by school rules. The ability to introduce evidence may be curtailed compared with what is allowed in court. 

However, regardless of the current political guidelines, students should be entitled to basic due process rights. The person or tribunal making a decision should not be biased, and the decisionmaker should apply the current standard of proof. When an attorney can demonstrate that a student was deprived of essential due process rights, they could succeed in obtaining a better result through an on-campus appeal, OCR complaint, or lawsuit.

Find Out the Best Action to Take in Your Situation

The means of handling an appeal will vary depending on the situation. An experienced attorney who understands Title IX violations can review the facts and policies involved to determine the best means of pursuing an appeal.  

The dedicated team at Duffy Law knows how important it is to receive fair treatment whether you are pursuing a complaint or responding to a complaint filed against you. We work hard to ensure our clients’ concerns are fully addressed to help achieve the best possible outcome. To find out how we can assist in your case, contact us for a confidential consultation.

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.