If you are a college student in Nebraska facing allegations of sexual misconduct, there are many factors in play that could jeopardize your future, regardless of guilt or innocence. Colleges and universities who receive federal funding (i.e., most of them) are required by law to pursue allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault and render appropriate discipline, at the risk of losing their funding. Unfortunately, this puts schools under a lot of pressure to be more aggressive in their investigations, often resulting in unfair treatment and disproportionate punishment for the accused.
Recent developments and changes in the Department of Education rules have made things even more confusing and precarious for students accused of misconduct, making the chances of an unfair outcome even greater. Here's what you need to know to navigate these troubled waters.
Misconduct Allegation Rules Have Changed
In May 2020, the U.S. Department of Education rolled out new rules and interpretations that will change the way Title IX student protections are implemented and enforced—particularly about how Title IX views sexual harassment. Effective for the 2020-2021 school year, these rule changes include the following:
- Schools must now have a single hearing process in place for all students, faculty, and staff accused of misconduct. These processes include live cross-examination of witnesses, similar to what occurs in a courtroom. If a witness is unwilling to participate in the live hearing, their testimony won't be counted in the investigation.
- Off-campus jurisdictions have changed. Under the new rules, schools are now responsible for investigating any alleged incidents of sexual misconduct at any location or event (on or off campus) where the school exercises “substantial control.” This includes off-campus fraternity and sorority houses, but it does not include other off-campus housing. Additionally, schools are not responsible for alleged incidents that happen to students studying overseas—for example, in student exchange programs.
- Schools are not responsible for investigating any sexual harassment/assault incident of which they do not possess “actual knowledge.” Before the rule change, schools could be penalized for failing to investigate incidents about which they should have “reasonably known.”
Revised Definitions of Misconduct
The rule change that may have the most far-reaching impact on school discipline cases is that the definition of “sexual misconduct” under Title IX has been significantly narrowed from its earlier description of “any unwelcome contact of a sexual nature.” Now, sexual harassment is classified according to the following three categories:
- Dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking;
- Quid pro quo harassment (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.”
The third point is perhaps the most telling. Under Title IX rules, a school is not legally obligated to pursue sexual harassment allegations unless the alleged incident can be interpreted as denying someone “equal access to education.” Taken to its extreme, this means Title IX protections would not apply even to legitimate acts of sexual harassment unless they affect the victim's right to equal access of education—and therefore, schools are not obligated to investigate such incidents.
Misconduct Policies at Nebraska Colleges and Universities
Despite the implementation of these new DOE rules regarding Title IX, it remains to be seen how it will affect the disciplinary policies of colleges and universities in Nebraska and elsewhere for the long term. It is worth noting that the Attorneys General for 18 states have filed suit attempting to have the new rules rescinded—not to mention that the next Presidential administration may opt to do away with these rule changes. In addition, while the new rules alter how schools investigate sexual harassment claims under Title IX, they do not prevent schools from creating and enforcing their own sexual misconduct policies. To that effect, some schools have already begun rewriting their policies regarding misconduct and discipline to address sexual misconduct issues no longer covered by Title IX.
Why You Need an Attorney-Advisor for Misconduct Allegations
Between the evolving school policies (none of which will be the same for each school) and the question of whether the new DOE rules will remain in effect, students accused of sexual misconduct now face deep uncertainty. Amid the confusion regarding regulations and jurisdictions, it's far more likely that some students will be denied due process and unfairly disciplined, throwing their academic and professional future into question. While the rule changes were designed to offer greater protections for the accused, they may, in some instances, have the opposite effect. In short, if you're facing a school disciplinary investigation/hearing for sexual harassment, the current confusing landscape could be your undoing—unless you have help.
This is where hiring an attorney-advisor can help improve your odds. An experienced advisor will have a clear understanding of the latest federal rules and how they should be implemented, as well as the updated misconduct policies for your school. Your advisor will draw from this information to ensure you receive due process while protecting your rights. Also, the advisor can help you gather evidence and procure witnesses to defend yourself at the hearing. And finally, the presence of an attorney (even in an advisory role) helps to add a layer of accountability for the school, so they are more likely to abide by their own policies and enforce student protections. Ultimately, this additional help can make the difference between a positive and negative outcome. In short, it may save your career.
Nebraska College Sexual Misconduct Advisor
As a college student in Nebraska, your first step in dealing with an allegation of sexual misconduct is to reach out to an experienced attorney-advisor for assistance. The Lento Law Firm has extensive experience and a long track record of success in helping accused students around the country to navigate Title IX and college sexual misconduct cases and school disciplinary proceedings. Joseph D. Lento will work to help you protect your rights and restore your good name. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 to learn more.
Nebraska 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:
- Bellevue University
- BryanLGH College of Health Sciences
- Central Community College
- Chadron State College
- Clarkson College
- College of Saint Mary
- Concordia University Seward
- Creighton University
- Doane University
- Grace University
- Hastings College
- ITT Technical Institute Omaha
- Kaplan University Lincoln Campus
- Kaplan University Omaha Campus
- Little Priest Tribal College
- Metropolitan Community College Area
- Mid Plains Community College
- Midland University
- Myotherapy Institute
- Nebraska Christian College
- Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture
- Nebraska Indian Community College
- Nebraska Methodist College of Nursing & Allied Health
- Nebraska Wesleyan University
- Northeast Community College
- Omaha School of Massage and Healthcare of Herzing University
- Peru State College
- Southeast Community College Area
- The Creative Center
- Union College
- Universal College of Healing Arts
- University of Nebraska at Kearney
- University of Nebraska at Omaha
- University of Nebraska Lincoln
- University of Phoenix Omaha Campus
- Vatterott College Spring Valley
- Wayne State College
- Western Nebraska Community College
- York College
It is critical to make certain the college sexual misconduct investigation at your Nebraska 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 Nebraska 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.