There are many reasons that can cause a delay in a Title IX investigation. In some cases, an accuser may take their time to report an allegation or respond to an investigator's requests to meet or speak. In other situations, the police may delay informing the school during the course of their criminal investigation. School breaks and summer vacation can also delay the timely completion of a Title IX case. While these delays do not inherently prevent the school from pursuing disciplinary action, they can result in undue hardship for an accused student that is nearing graduation.
In some cases, these delays can cause a Title IX investigation to extend beyond an upperclassmen's projected graduation date. When this happens, it is not always clear where a school's disciplinary power ends. According to a federal judge in Virginia, the University of Virginia lacked the jurisdiction to hold up the degree of a student who had already graduated in order to complete a Title IX investigation.
Doe vs. University of Virginia
In April 2017, the accused student – named as John Doe in the federal lawsuit – met the unnamed accuser off campus and engaged in a sexual encounter. Doe described the encounter as consensual. In August of 2018 – Doe's final year before graduation – local police informed the school that they had been investigating the incident as a sexual assault.
During the academic year, officials with the University of Virginia began an investigation into the allegations against Doe. During the course of the investigation, the school did not institute any interim suspensions or other restrictions against the student. Eventually, the school determined there was enough evidence to move forward.
The university informed Doe that they would be pursuing a Title IX case against him, claiming that they would hold up his degree pending the outcome of the case. However, Doe completed his courses and qualified for graduation in May of 2019. At that time, the disciplinary hearing had not yet taken place
Doe filed a federal lawsuit in June of that year, claiming the upcoming disciplinary hearing should be cancelled because the university lacked jurisdiction for a Title IX complaint. Three days later, the court agreed and barred the hearing from taking place.
The Scope of UVA's Title IX Policy
The decision cited UVA's Title IX policy, which does not apply to off campus conduct. While the policy allows the school to enact discipline for off-campus events, it may only do so if the student's continued presence on campus creates a hostile environment. Given that Doe had graduated and would no longer be on campus, the court found UVA lacked jurisdiction to hold up his degree.
The outcome could have been different under altered circumstances. If the school had issued an interim suspension while Doe was a student, they might have retained jurisdiction to prevent him from graduating.
The Importance of Legal Counsel
While schools have broad powers under Title IX, it is important to remember they are still constrained by their own policies. If you are facing a Title IX violation, it is critical that you seek legal counsel that can hold the school to their own policies. To speak with an experienced student defense lawyer, Contact Joseph D. Lento online or call his law office at (888) 535-3686.