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What Is a Title IX Investigation?

Since 1972, Title IX has protected students and employees of federally funded schools from discrimination based on sex and sexual harassment. Below, we’ll explore an overview of Title IX procedures, and what to expect in the event you find yourself a party to a Title IX complaint or investigation. If you feel like you or a loved one could benefit from speaking to an experienced Title IX lawyer contact Duffy Law.

Why Establish an Investigation Process?

Schools are required to investigate Title IX complaints. However, it is wise for respondents and complainants to conduct their own investigations as well.

Consider the Consequences

Some students and their families are not concerned about Title IX investigations because they view the issue as a minor school disciplinary problem that does not require legal defense the way a criminal charge would. However, this view fails to take into account the consequences if a student is found responsible for a violation.

A finding of responsibility could result in suspension or expulsion. Even if a penalty is less severe, however, such as probation or censure, the student has a negative record that can haunt them the rest of their lives. Title IX violations carry a stigma that can not only affect educational opportunities but also job prospects and many future dreams. It is important to take all available actions to protect the student’s integrity and record. Hiring an experienced student defense attorney is a wise first step.

When a finding goes against a complainant, the consequences are not as obvious but the effects can be just as negative and long-lasting. The trauma of the incident, investigation process, and outcome can not only ruin the student’s education but also interfere with mental and emotional functioning for years to come.

Potential Flaws in School Processes

The Title IX Coordinator at an educational institution may not be an expert at handling Title IX cases. They might have little understanding of the obligations and nuances of the rules. They are very likely overworked. Between the lack of knowledge, lack of experience, and lack of time, chances are that whoever is in charge of investigating a Title IX complaint is going to miss critical details. 

When you are seeking justice in a Title IX case, you deserve to have the evidence investigated thoroughly and without bias. It is not always possible to trust the school process to provide that level of investigation.

The Benefits of Independent Investigation

Whether seeking to prove allegations or defending against them, there are pieces of evidence to support your position. When you engage someone to investigate, that person will be looking for those vital bits of evidence. They may also uncover crucial evidence that can be used against you, and knowing that allows you to prepare your defense accordingly.

An independent investigator can take the time to dig deep and talk to potential witnesses who might otherwise be overlooked. In addition, an investigator who understands Title IX cases will know where to look for information and how to ask the right follow-up questions. 

Issues such as consent, which plays such a key role in many Title IX cases, may be determined by very subtle actions and words. An independent investigator with Title IX experience will understand the significance of events and statements and know to look for the right evidence to support your position. At the end of the day, the school’s investigator will be concerned with making the school look good. An independent investigator will be looking for truthful evidence to protect your future.

The Title IX Coordinator’s Responsibilities

As explained by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, all schools that receive federal funds must have at least one Title IX coordinator. The Title IX coordinator ensures that the school complies with Title IX’s requirements. The Title IX coordinator’s responsibilities include:

  • Having a thorough knowledge of the school’s policies and procedures regarding sex discrimination.
  • Educating staff on the school’s nondiscrimination policies and procedures.
  • Educating the school community on how to file a Title IX complaint.
  • Investigating complaints.
  • Working with law enforcement when necessary.
  • Coordinating the school’s response to complaints.
  • Ensuring that complaints are resolved promptly and appropriately.
  • Monitoring students’ participation in athletics and academic programs to identify disproportionate enrollment based on sex and to ensure that sex discrimination is not negatively impacting the students’ access to equal education opportunities.

Grievance Procedures

Title IX requires federally-funded schools to adopt and publish grievance procedures that quickly and fairly resolve student or staff complaints about sex discrimination. Some of the duties involved in the development of grievance procedures include:

  • Ensuring that grievance procedures are written in understandable, age-appropriate language for the school’s students, including English-language learners and students with disabilities.
  • Incorporating all of the elements required by Title IX into the grievance procedures.
  • Communicating with the school community about how Title IX protects students and employees against sex discriminations.
  • Ensuring that the grievance process is coordinated and complaints are handled appropriately.
  • The posting of the school’s nondiscrimination policy, including the direction of questions about Title IX to the coordinator or the Office of Civil Rights. The notice should be posted on the school’s website, at prominent locations on the campus, and in electronic or print publications for general distribution.

Protections Under Title IX

Students and employees have many different rights under Title IX, but the most common claims include violations of rights that prohibit gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and unlawful retaliation.

Unlawful retaliation under Title IX includes any type of adverse treatment in response to reporting potentially unlawful discrimination or harassment, such as the denial of permission to participate on an athletic team, reduction in grades, harassment, or suspension or expulsion.

If you are a victim of unlawful sex discrimination, harassment, or retaliation, Title IX gives you the right to file a civil action against the institution. Title IX complaints are not reserved solely for students, however; coaches, faculty, or other employees of the institution may likewise bring forward a Title IX complaint if discrimination is being observed. Some of the complaints commonly filed include:

  • Sexual assault and harassment
  • Inequitable treatment or funding of athletic programs and opportunities
  • Pregnancy discrimination
  • Employment discrimination
  • Disparate disciplinary policies based on gender

Sexual Violence and Title IX

In addition to gender discrimination, Title IX also prohibits unlawful sexual harassment against students or employees in educational institutions or programs that receive federal funding. The Department of Education has also declared that the prohibition on sexual harassment also extends to sexual violence and assault. Sexual violence includes rape, sexual assault, sexual coercion, and sexual battery. Other unlawful sexual harassment includes stalking, threats based on sexuality, and intimate partner violence.

In addition, if a school learns of any sexual harassment or violence, Title IX requires the institution to take action to protect students. Schools have a responsibility to eliminate the unlawful behavior, remedy the harm caused to students, and prevent future occurrences. A school may also include a right to a formal hearing, and institutions are discouraged from allowing the accused to question claimants directly. Alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation, is generally not permitted in sexual assault cases.

How Long Does an Investigation Take?

Investigation procedures are unique to each school, but the federal government does have some guidance for how long an investigation should take. According to Harvard University’s campus newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, the federal Office of Civil Rights (OCR) made a number of recommendations when it found that Harvard Law School violated Title IX in 2014. One recommendation was to specify clear timelines for resolving sexual assault and harassment complaints. 

At the time, the OCR recommended that the school investigate and resolve sexual assault complaints within 60 days, and the time frame for investigations should include imposing sanctions on perpetrators as well as providing a remedy for the complainant, the school, and the community. More recently, the Department of Education has declined to prescribe a specific time period for resolving claims; rather, investigations must simply be conducted in a “reasonably prompt” fashion. Schools must only conduct “a fair, impartial investigation in a timely manner designed to provide all parties with resolution.”

In the previous case, the Crimson’s staff found that the university’s office for investigating cases of sexual assault and harassment often takes double or triple the formerly-required 60-day period. The Crimson staff discovered investigations involving a student complainant in the 2014 to 2015 academic year, for example, took an average of five months to complete. In the 2015 to 2016 academic year, the process took almost four months, the report noted.

However, these statistics did not take into account how long it took the school’s disciplinary bodies to determine appropriate sanctions after the investigation was complete. Harvard’s own procedures for sexual harassment often resulted in investigation periods of several months, and recent Department of Education guidelines do little to guarantee a particular expected timeline. In general, there is no firm timeline for resolution of a Title IX claim, and the length of time taken to resolve a claim to its conclusion often depends on the complexity of the individual case. Working closely with an experienced Title IX attorney is the best way to know what a prospective claim would look like, and increase your odds of a swift, fair, and equitable conclusion.

Title IX is a complex area of federal law, and it is important to speak with an Title IX attorney if you think you may have been the victim of a Title IX violation. If you have legal questions regarding a possible Title IX violation, we would be happy to provide you with further information. Contact us online or by calling (203) 946-2000.

 

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.