Sexual Misconduct Appeals FAQ

Defending yourself from sexual misconduct charges can be a complicated matter, the more so since the Trump administration issued revised Title IX guidelines in 2020. These days you could be subject to a Title IX investigation or a non-Title IX investigation. The two can involve very different procedures and result in very different outcomes.

If your school is investigating you, you need clear answers, and you need them now.

Below, you'll find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about university sexual misconduct appeals processes. You might have only a few days to file your appeal, and you might only have one chance. Make sure you have a qualified Title IX attorney on your side. For more information, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.

What Can Happen if I've Been Accused of Sexual Misconduct? Why Would I Need to File an Appeal?

Sexual misconduct is among the most serious offenses you can commit on a university campus. As a result, schools are quite strict about how they investigate and adjudicate such cases. Further, the federal government mandates, under Title IX, that any school that receives federal funds must thoroughly investigate all credible complaints of sexual discrimination and harassment.

Since 2020, the federal government has dictated that schools conduct investigations and hold formal hearings in all Title IX cases (above the K-12 level). At the conclusion of the hearing, one or more decision-makers decides whether you are “responsible” or not for the incident. If you are found responsible, the school assigns you a sanction, often suspension or expulsion.

However, Title IX also recommends that schools provide students with a means to appeal the school's findings and/or sanctions, and most schools do this. Thus, if you've been found responsible, an appeal offers you one more opportunity to question that decision.

Many schools also now have a separate, non-Title IX process for dealing with any incidents Title IX doesn't cover. For instance, a university's policy may cover sexual assaults at off-campus housing, even though Title IX does not. When a school uses a non-Title IX process, it may also include the opportunity to appeal its disciplinary decisions.

If My School Finds Me Responsible for Sexual Misconduct, Can I Appeal the Decision?

Your school does not have to provide you with a means to appeal its decision. However, under Title IX, the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) recommends colleges and universities allow appeals under very specific conditions, and virtually all schools follow this advice. Certainly, if a school provides complainants an opportunity to appeal, they must give you the same opportunity.

Many schools use the same appeals processes for non-Title IX cases as well. Unfortunately, however, some provide no mechanism for reviewing their decisions.

Can I File an Appeal if I Disagree With My School's Decision?

Schools don't allow you to appeal a sexual misconduct finding simply because you disagree with their decision. Title IX recommends schools grant appeals, but only under three very specific conditions:

  • The discovery of new evidence with the potential to change the case outcome
  • Procedural error during the investigation or hearing
  • A sanction that is disproportionate to the case findings

If I Am Found “Not Responsible,” Can the Complainant Appeal the Decision?

Under Title IX, schools must treat complainants and respondents equally. That means if respondents have the right to appeal the school's findings, complainants must have the same right. If you are found “not responsible,” the complainant can appeal that decision. However, the same basic restrictions apply. That is, a complainant can only file an appeal if significant new evidence comes to light, a procedural error occurred, or the sanction seems disproportionate to the offense.

Who Decides an Appeal?

Because the federal government doesn't mandate an appeals process, different colleges and universities use different procedures for deciding such cases. At Wake Forest, for example, Title IX appeals are heard by an “appeals committee,” made up of an “Appeals Officer” and three panelists chosen from the Sexual Misconduct Hearing Board. In contrast, at Cal Tech, appeals are heard and decided by a single individual-the Vice President for Student Affairs.

How Long Do I Have to File My Appeal?

The length of time you have to file your appeal after the school renders its decision depends on the school itself. You may have as little as two to three days, or you may have up to sixty days to submit a written request. All schools, though, have a deadline for appeals, and it is important to know what time limit your particular school has set.

What Can Happen in an Appeal?

Obviously, an appeal can be denied. Such a decision is usually final, at least on the level of the school itself. If an appeal is granted, however, there may be a number of different outcomes depending on the school. Some schools, such as Fresno Pacific University, allow the administrator hearing the appeal to make a final determination as to the respondent's responsibility and any sanctions. Other schools, like Crowley College, order a brand-new hearing, and the process starts all over again.

What Penalties Do I Face if I Lose My Appeal?

If you lose your appeal, you will most likely be facing the penalty that was originally assigned by the hearing committee or other decision-maker(s). Colleges and universities claim to offer a range of sanctions in sexual misconduct cases, including written apologies, restitution, removal from campus housing, mandated counseling, and loss of privileges. In practice, however, suspension is the minimum penalty a school will assign in such cases. Far more likely, if you're found responsible, you'll be expelled. Expulsion can include additional penalties as well. For instance, most state schools bar you from enrolling if you've been expelled from any other state school. In addition, some colleges and universities include a notation on your transcript when you're expelled regarding the nature of your offense. Such a notation can keep you from enrolling anywhere else, in-state or out.

I Accept Responsibility for My Actions but Disagree With the Penalty I've Been Given. Can I Appeal Just the Sanction?

Title IX recommends that colleges and universities allow students to appeal findings against them if the students feel the sanctions are unequal to the offense. This means you can accept responsibility for an accusation but still reserve the right to argue the imposed sanction is too severe. Likewise, complainants have the right to appeal a decision if they believe a sanction isn't severe enough.

What Happens if My Appeal Is Denied?

If your appeal is denied, the school's findings as to responsibility remain in place, as does any sanction the school has assigned. Usually, the judgment of an appeals decision-maker is final.

This does not, however, mean you have no options left open to you. You can file a lawsuit in federal court to overturn the school's decisions. In fact, there are a number of significant problems with Title IX and how colleges and universities implement the law. As a result, more and more students have chosen to sue over the last decade, and frequently courts are siding with plaintiffs.

How Do I File an Appeal?

If your school has an appeals procedure, they will provide you information about it when they let you know the decision in your case. Different schools use different processes. Some, for instance, require that you fill out a specific form. Others ask you to submit a letter stating the reasons for your appeal. Schools differ as well on where to submit your appeal request. Pay careful attention to your school's instructions and, if possible, consult an attorney as you prepare your appeal.

Do I Need an Attorney to File My Appeal?

You are not required to have an attorney for any part of a sexual misconduct case. That extends to the appeals process. Title IX guidelines allow you to have an advisor to help you prepare and present your case. In fact, only an advisor can cross-examine witnesses at a Title IX hearing. The law also allows for this advisor to be an attorney. However, it does not require the school to provide you with an attorney.

Any time you are dealing with a misconduct accusation, though, you should have an attorney. Colleges and universities certainly have their own legal counsel, and you need someone to represent your interests as well. Attorneys are especially important in sexual misconduct cases because so much is on the line. If you're found responsible, you will probably be expelled.

Title IX attorneys have the training and experience to deal with student sexual misconduct cases. A Title IX lawyer will understand how to use the law in your favor and will know how to deal with school administrators. When it comes to appeals, in particular, a Title IX lawyer can help you fill out the paperwork to file your appeal. They can offer advice on what to say and make sure you've made a compelling argument.

If I'm a Graduate Student, Do I Still Have the Right to Appeal “Responsible” Finding?

Title IX rules are the same for graduate students as for undergraduates. If you were accused under Title IX, went through an investigation and a hearing, and were found “responsible,” you have the right to appeal that finding, assuming your school has an appeals process in place for Title IX cases.

If the case is investigated as non-Title IX sexual misconduct, it is up to the school to determine whether or not you can appeal its decision.

Can I Actually Win an Appeal in a Sexual Misconduct Case?

You may think it's unlikely an administrator or an appeals committee would reverse the findings of an investigator or a previous committee. However, decision-makers in matters of appeal take their jobs very seriously. Beyond any sense of duty or responsibility to render a just decision, these people recognize that their decisions are ultimately reviewable by a federal court. If an expelled student can prove their school violated their due process rights, the school may be liable for damages in the millions. No decision-maker wants to risk that.

As a result, you should always take the appeals process seriously. Develop your very best arguments for why the original decision or the sanctions should be set aside. Complete your materials carefully. Submit everything required in a timely fashion.

Why Should I Appeal the Findings in My Case?

The most obvious reason to appeal a “responsible” decision is to reclaim your life. Most responsible findings carry severe sanctions, often expulsion. Being expelled from school can prevent you from enrolling anywhere else. It can keep you from getting a good job or from advancing over the course of your career.

However, there are other important reasons to contest the findings in your case. The Title IX process is complex, and schools make mistakes. Sometimes they make multiple mistakes. Appeals are your chance to draw attention to any flaws in the system itself. This doesn't just benefit you. It helps:

  • Other respondents
  • Other complainants
  • The school itself
  • Other students
  • The federal government

It is in everyone's interest that justice be fair and impartial, that the rights of both complainants and respondents be protected, that decisions be rendered accurately. Appeals help to ensure all of these.

Call Joseph D. Lento for Title IX and Sexual Misconduct Help

It's important to know what you're up against if you've been accused of sexual misconduct at your college or university. It's equally important to recognize that you can't handle things alone. Too much is at stake, and the system is too complicated. Don't risk your future. Make sure you have proper representation.

Attorney Joseph D. Lento has defended hundreds of clients across the United States just like you from all kinds of sexual misconduct charges. He built his career on Title IX cases. He knows the law, and he knows how your school operates. Joseph D. Lento can protect your due process rights. He can accompany you to interviews, help you uncover evidence and witnesses, represent you at hearings, and file appeals on your behalf. If you've been accused, make sure you've got an experienced Title IX attorney at your side. Choose Joseph D. Lento, and you will know you have a steadfast advocate in your corner who fights until the final bell rings.

For more information, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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