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Can a Student Hold a College Liable for "Covering Up" Her Title IX Claim if She Only Reported it to the Mother of the Accused?

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Oct 25, 2019 | 0 Comments

Title IX case at Kent State University has spawned a lawsuit by the girl who is claiming that she was raped by another student. Previously dismissed, the alleged victim is pushing a federal appeals court to revive her claim, which hinges on whether her decision to report the rape to the mother of her assailant, rather than anyone else, was enough to put the school on notice of the incident.

Softball Player Reports Alleged Rape to Coach, the Mother of Assailant

According to the alleged victim, who played on the softball at Kent State University, she was raped while still a freshman in 2012. The accused assailant was none other than the son of the girl's softball coach, who attended the college and played on its baseball team.

The alleged victim, however, waited until the spring semester in 2013 to report the incident. When she did, she chose to confide in her softball coach, the mother of the male student she was accusing of rape.

The alleged victim did not go to the police, made it clear that she did not want to file charges against the male student, and did not go directly to the school's Title IX office to file a complaint.

The softball coach, who was not listed as a mandatory reporter of sexual misconduct at the school, did not notify anyone at Kent State. Instead, she called the alleged victim's mother and urged her to receive counseling.

The coach resigned in August 2015 after a school investigation into the incident.

The softball player sued Kent State and the softball coach for mishandling and “covering up” her Title IX case.

Responsible Employees and Title IX Reporting

The case hinges on an important, sometimes irrelevant, but often overlooked aspect of Title IX law: Who can an alleged sexual misconduct victim talk to in order to put their school on notice of the potential violation?

Guidance from the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education says that all “responsible employees” are mandatory reporters of sexual violence and misconduct. “Responsible employees” include any employee who:

  • Has authority to take action to redress the sexual misconduct,
  • Has been given a duty to report sexual misconduct by student or the school, or
  • A student could reasonably believe has such a duty to report misconduct.

Other employees are not obligated to send allegations of sexual misconduct up the chain of command. Because other employees do not have this duty, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Gebser v. Lago Vista Independent School District that a school cannot be held financially liable for a Title IX case if a report of sexual misconduct dies on their ears: Liability can only follow if the report was made to a “responsible employee” who had a legal duty to pass word on to superiors.

Title IX Defense Lawyer Joseph D. Lento

Policies like these are in place for a reason: They prevent alleged victims from recovering money from taxpayer-funded colleges when that school had no way of knowing something was going on.

Joseph D. Lento is a Title IX defense lawyer. Call his law office at (888) 535-3686 or contact him online.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience passionately fighting for the futures of his clients. Mr. Lento represents students and others in disciplinary cases and other proceedings at universities and colleges locally and nationwide while concurrently fighting in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania counties, and New Jersey. Mr. Lento has helped countless students, professors, and others in academia at more than a thousand universities and colleges across the United States. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide.

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