University codes of conduct prohibit students from participating in any form of harassment. When students commit sexual harassment, it escalates the situation and potential sanctions.
Sexual harassment refers to unwelcome sexual advances, inappropriate sexual conduct, and acts of sexual violence like sexual assault. These actions violate both student codes of conduct and Title IX laws, which prohibit sex discrimination at federally funded schools.
Title IX has strict guidelines that determine how schools respond to sexual harassment allegations. Students accused of sexual harassment are often at the mercy of both Title IX investigations and separate school disciplinary proceedings.
These investigations can result in severe consequences, from long-term suspension to expulsion to the school. That's not to mention the collateral consequences and damage to reputation that stem from a sexual misconduct charge.
Sexual harassment allegations may pit an accuser's words against yours. You must take steps to prove your innocence. An experienced defense attorney can guide you through the disciplinary process and work to clear your name.
How Universities Respond to Sexual Harassment Allegations
Sexual harassment threatens students' rights and jeopardizes equal access to education. As a result, universities frequently go to great lengths to investigate and punish these harmful acts. You can review the steps your school takes to respond to sexual harassment allegations in your student code of conduct.
In general, and especially since the Title IX Final Rule went into effect in August 2020, schools hold disciplinary hearings to determine whether or not a student committed sexual harassment. A panel will review the evidence, make a decision, and administer sanctions.
Students found guilty of sexual harassment face a laundry list of potential consequences. The sanctions depend largely on the severity of the incident and the student's history of prior violations. Here are a few of the common punishments for sexual harassment:
- Loss of financial aid
- Removal from student housing
- Dismissal from clubs, sports, and leadership positions
A sexual harassment violation can follow you for years to come. Not only can it cause immediate consequences at your school but also issues in pursuing other academic endeavors. A sexual misconduct charge may appear on your permanent student record, making it difficult to apply to other institutions or graduate programs. It can also cause myriad issues in your personal and professional life.
Sexual Harassment and Title IX
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational institutions that receive federal funding. Schools that fail to investigate and punish sex-based discrimination risk losing financial assistance.
The U.S. Department of Education released the Title IX Final Rule in 2020. The Final Rule massively overhauled Title IX policy and changed how schools respond to sexual harassment allegations. The Final Rule considers sexual harassment a form of unlawful sex discrimination. It defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome conduct determined by a reasonable person to be so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the school's education program or activity; or sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, or stalking.”
Title IX Investigations
The Title IX Final Rule also set a new standard for investigating sexual harassment allegations. Schools must investigate sexual harassment if they have actual knowledge of the allegation and if the violation occurred within the school's education program or activity. Universities must investigate sexual harassment that occurs both on campus and at off-campus houses under school control, such as fraternity and sorority houses.
Although schools may hold a separate investigation, they must conduct a formal Title IX investigation to address sexual harassment allegations. Universities must abide by the following rules during Title IX investigations:
- Provide a consistent, legally sound framework
- Offer a clear and accessible option to report sexual harassment
- Give students written notice of allegations and the right to an advisor
- Allow students the right to submit, challenge and cross-examine evidence at a live hearing
- Send both parties a written determination explaining the decision
- Provide both parties an equal opportunity to appeal
Title IX also requires universities to provide due process during the grievance process. Schools must apply the presumption of innocence and bear the burden of proof during investigations.
Title IX also mandates that schools use one of two standards of evidence in all sexual harassment investigations: the preponderance of the evidence standard or the clear and convincing standard. A preponderance of the evidence means that it is more likely than not that the defendant committed sexual harassment. The clear and convincing evidence standard sets a higher standard of proof and indicates that it is more likely to be true than untrue that the student committed sexual harassment.
Why You Need an Experienced Advisor
If you face sexual harassment allegations, you must exercise your right to an advisor. Many students fail to grasp the severity of a sexual harassment investigation and end up paying the price. Although Title IX requires schools to provide due process during investigations, universities can still play by their own rules. They may opt to conduct a separate disciplinary hearing that carries additional sanctions.
An experienced student defense attorney can help you fight sexual harassment charges. Not only can they prepare a defense, but they can guide you through the difficult live hearing. Although you have many options for an advisor, an attorney gives you the best chance for a successful outcome.
Lawyers have the legal acumen necessary to challenge authority, protect your rights, and ensure a fair determination. They can also threaten a litigation hold against the university if they identify procedural errors or bias against you. With so much at stake, it's essential that you seek professional help in your sexual harassment case. An attorney gives you the best possible chance to dismiss or reduce sexual harassment charges.
Are you dealing with sexual harassment allegations? Attorney Joseph D. Lento is here for you. For many years, he has fought fearlessly against university disciplinary proceedings and Title IX investigations. He has achieved many dismissals and favorable results for students accused of sexual harassment. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation.