Anyone would of course dread the idea of being accused of sexual misconduct. But when a college or university student faces school discipline for it, the results to their professional future can be catastrophic. Schools in Louisiana and elsewhere are under constant pressure to pursue sexual misconduct allegations aggressively per federal rules—and they can lose their federal funding for failure to do so. And with new rules set in place for Fall 2020 by the U.S. Department of Education, the processes for identifying and investigating sexual misconduct violations have become even more convoluted as schools scramble to adapt.
For students accused of sexual misconduct in Louisiana, these new developments amount to an uncertain future, at best. With so many variables in play, and due to a consequence of the Title IX Final Rule's narrower scope, the risk can be much greater that the accused will face unfair punishment or be denied due process, if only due to the ensuing confusion and also greater latitude allowed to schools depending on the specifics of the case. Here's what you need to know to protect your rights.
How Federal Rules Regarding College Sexual Misconduct Investigations Have Changed
For many years, college and university students have been legally protected from discrimination on the basis of sex due to the federal protections of Title IX. But in May 2020, the Department of Education (DOE) produced an updated set of rules that significantly alter how schools receiving federal funds must view and investigate sexual misconduct allegations. A summary of the most important changes is below.
- A single-hearing process for all students, faculty, and staff accused of misconduct, including cross-examination of witnesses. Witnesses who come forward must be willing to participate in the hearing and be cross-examined, or their testimony will be inadmissible.
- Changes in schools' off-campus authority. Colleges and universities are responsible for investigating any incidents of sexual misconduct that allegedly occur at places and events under which they have “substantial control.” This guideline extends to off-campus events and fraternity and sorority houses; it does not, however, apply to other types of off-campus housing, nor incidents occurring with students participating in overseas study programs.
- “Actual knowledge” versus “reasonably known.” The DOE now specifies that schools are only responsible for investigating sexual misconduct incidents about which they have “actual knowledge.” (Previously, schools were held accountable for alleged events that they should have “reasonably known” about.)
Narrowed Definition of Sexual Misconduct
Perhaps the change with the furthest reaching impact is the DOE's narrowed definitions of what constitutes “sexual misconduct” under Title IX. Previously, any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature was to be investigated. Now, the rules limit the scope of sexual misconduct to the following three categories:
- Instances of dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking;
- Instances of Quid pro quo (i.e., faculty or staff attempting to trade favors for sexual acts); and
- “Unwelcome conduct so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies someone equal access to education.”
This third, “equal access” criterion is the one most likely to generate confusion with enforcement because it can be very ambiguous to determine which contexts of sexual activity are “objectively offensive” and which might deny someone “equal access.” The terms "severe" and "pervasive" can also be subject to debate and certainly will be fiercely contested whether allegations are being adjudicated under a school's Title IX policy or its non-Title IX sexual misconduct policy.
Policy Changes at Louisiana Colleges and Universities
These rule changes have forced many schools across the nation, including some in Louisiana, to scramble to revise their policies. We're seeing this happen on two fronts. First, schools must adapt their previous Title IX policies to reflect the new DOE rules. Second, some schools are re-writing their other Code of Conduct policies which will in all likelihood limit student protections now provided under Title IX. This new reality can cause serious ambiguity for accused students whose alleged actions may not warrant a Title IX investigation, but might fall under the jurisdiction of other revised school policies—and, quite possibly, under both at once.
Ramifications for the Accused
While the new DOE rules were apparently intended to provide for fairer treatment of students accused of misconduct, the surrounding confusion may have the opposite effect. Not only can students now face investigations under a confusing blanket of new school policies, but even the new DOE rules themselves have come into question as the Attorneys General for at least 18 states have now filed legal challenges against them. Furthermore, if Democrats lead the next federal administration, there's a high expectation that the new rules may be rescinded altogether. At the very least, the ramifications for the accused are blurry and chaotic, and without some professional help, the risks of unfair treatment and punishment may go up considerably.
Benefits of an Attorney-Advisor
Considering that any allegation of sexual misconduct could throw a college student's career into severe jeopardy, those who are accused need all the help they can get. This is where an experienced attorney-advisor can make the difference between a positive and a negative outcome for the student. An attorney-advisor will be up to date with the latest information on Title IX and individual school policies so the accused can better understand what's at stake and what steps to take in their defense. An advisor can also help collect key evidence and procure reliable witnesses to bolster your defense at the hearings. And barring all else, the involvement of an attorney—even in an advisory role—provides much-needed accountability for the school to ensure all policies are followed, and all required protections are afforded to the student. With due process in place and a well-designed defense, the accused has a much better chance of rescuing his/her future.
Experienced Louisiana College Sexual Misconduct Advisor
Don't let false allegations of sexual misconduct derail your academic or professional career. The Lento Law Firm has an extensive track record of success in helping students through difficult Title IX and college sexual misconduct cases around the country. Joseph D. Lento's proven experience and success in school disciplinary proceedings, in addition to helping accused students and families through what can be the most difficult times of their lives, has made him a pre-eminent expert on student defense issues. Protect your rights and your future with the help of an attorney-advisor. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 to learn how we can help.
Louisiana colleges and universities where Joseph D. Lento can help as your or your student's college sexual misconduct advisor during investigations, hearings, and appeals include, but are not limited to, the following schools:
- Acadiana Technical College Lafayette Campus
- Baton Rouge College
- Baton Rouge Community College
- Blue Cliff College Alexandria
- Blue Cliff College Houma
- Blue Cliff College Metairie
- Blue Cliff College Shreveport
- Bossier Parish Community College
- Capital Area Technical College Baton Rouge Campus
- Career Technical College Shreveport
- Centenary College of Louisiana
- Central Louisiana Technical College Alexandria Campus
- Court Reporting Institute of Louisiana
- Delgado Community College
- Delta School of Business and Technology
- Dillard University
- Grambling State University
- Herzing University Kenner
- ITT Technical Institute Baton Rouge
- ITT Technical Institute Saint Rose
- L E Fletcher Technical Community College
- Louisiana College
- Louisiana Delta Community College Monroe Campus
- Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College
- Louisiana State University Eunice
- Louisiana State University Alexandria
- Louisiana State University Shreveport
- Louisiana Tech University
- Loyola University New Orleans
- McCann School of Business & Technology Monroe
- McNeese State University
- Medvance Institute Baton Rouge
- Nicholls State University
- Northeast Louisiana Technical College Delta Ouachita Campus
- Northshore Technical Community College
- Northwest Louisiana Technical College
- Northwestern State University of Louisiana
- Nunez Community College
- Our Lady of Holy Cross College
- Our Lady of the Lake College
- Remington College Baton Rouge Campus
- Remington College Lafayette Campus
- Remington College Shreveport Campus
- River Parishes Community College
- Saint Joseph Seminary College
- South Central Louisiana Technical College Young Memorial Campus
- South Louisiana Community College
- Southeastern Louisiana University
- Southern University and A & M College
- Southern University at New Orleans
- Southern University at Shreveport
- Sowela Technical Community College
- Tulane University of Louisiana
- University of Louisiana at Lafayette
- University of Louisiana Monroe
- University of New Orleans
- University of Phoenix Baton Rouge
- University of Phoenix Lafayette
- University of Phoenix Louisiana Campus
- University of Phoenix Shreveport Bossier
- Virginia College
- Xavier University of Louisiana
It is critical to make certain the college sexual misconduct investigation at your Louisiana school is handled properly and that the accused student's interests are protected from as early as possible during the sexual misconduct investigative process. One major reason is because even at colleges and universities where a finding of responsibility for sexual misconduct charges is made at a hearing, the investigation will set the stage for what the hearing panel is provided prior to a hearing (and what the hearing panel will in large part rely on at a hearing), and at schools where the finding of responsibility is made solely through the investigative process, what takes place during the investigation itself will determine whether the accused is found responsible or not responsible for college sexual misconduct charges.
Unfortunately, some students, families, and college employees make the mistake of not taking the necessary precautions as soon as possible when accused of sexual misconduct at college. Some people will mistakenly believe that if they "just explain what happened," their college or university will be fair and impartial and will arrive at the truth. In a perfect world this may be the case, but in a perfect world, sexual misconduct cases would not exist.
Fighting passionately for the future of his clients at universities and colleges throughout the nation for many years, Joseph D. Lento knows how important it is to mount the strongest defense because he understands that an accused's academic and professional future is on the line. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. Joseph Lento is a licensed attorney in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, is admitted as an attorney pro hac vice in state and federal court if needed when representing clients nationwide, and serves as a college sexual misconduct advisor to students and others in academia facing sexual misconduct investigations and Title IX disciplinary cases in Louisiana and throughout the nation. Make certain your or your student's interests are protected - Contact National College Sexual Misconduct Attorney Joseph D. Lento today at 888-535-3686 or by completing our online form.