Allegations of sexual misconduct can wreak havoc on the future of an accused college student. Disciplinary actions may result in loss of reputation, possible expulsion, and even dashed career goals. Colleges and universities in Oregon and elsewhere are under pressure to aggressively pursue all allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault because failing to do so could put their federal funding at risk. To add complications to an already tense situation, the U.S. Department of Education recently rolled out a series of high-impact rule changes that have caused many schools to scramble to revise their policies. Unfortunately, in many cases, it's the falsely accused student who pays the price for this confusion.
Hiring a sexual misconduct attorney-advisor to help in such matters can make a big difference in the outcome of investigations such as these. If you're facing possible school disciplinary action due to sexual misconduct allegations, here's what you need to know to protect your rights.
Rule Changes Regarding College Sexual Misconduct Investigations
Title IX offers protections for students against all forms of discrimination on the basis of sex, and for years schools have also interpreted this to include protections against sexual harassment and related misconduct. However, in May 2020, the Department of Education enacted new interpretations for the 2020-21 school year that may profoundly impact how colleges and universities approach allegations of sexual misconduct. The most significant changes are listed below.
- Schools must have a single investigative process in place for misconduct allegations for faculty, staff, and students. This process must include live hearings and cross-examination of witnesses. If a witness is unwilling to participate in the hearing, their testimony is not to be included in the investigation.
- Jurisdictional changes for schools. The new rules state that colleges and universities are only responsible for investigating alleged sexual misconduct occurring at locations and events under “substantial control” of the school. This rule change limits the school's responsibility for incidents occurring at off-campus events and situations. Specifically, sorority and fraternity houses are included, but other forms of off-campus housing are not. Additionally, schools are not responsible for investigating alleged incidents occurring with students participating in study programs abroad.
- “Actual knowledge” versus “reasonably known.” Schools are now only responsible for investigating sexual misconduct allegations about which they have “actual knowledge.” Before this rule change, schools could be penalized for failing to address allegations about which they should have “reasonably known.”
Redefining “Sexual Misconduct” Under Title IX
Title IX protections previously extended to any unwelcome content of a sexual nature. The new rules, however, have significantly altered what is considered to be “sexual misconduct.” Specifically, the alleged incident must fall into one of these three categories:
- Dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking;
- Quid pro quo harassment (i.e., school staff/faculty trying to offer favors for sexual acts); or
- “Unwelcome conduct so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies someone equal access to education.”
On the last point, the phrases “objectively offensive” and “equal access” have sparked considerable confusion and controversy. Schools may have wide latitude as to what actions they determine to be “objectively offensive,” and “denying equal access.” Even what is considered "severe" and "pervasive" will be likely to be fiercely contested through a school's Title IX disciplinary process.
Ramifications for the Accused
The redefining of these Title IX protections by the DOE were intended to provide greater opportunities for those accused to mount a fair defense. However, the actual implementation of the rules has created some murkiness and confusion that may actually work against accused students. There are two reasons why this is so:
First—many schools are adopting new sexual misconduct policies of their own. The narrowing of Title IX interpretations affects all schools nationwide who receive federal funding, but they don't preclude individual schools from extending their own policies regarding sexual misconduct. As schools scramble to rewrite their own rules, accused students may not be subject to discipline under Title IX, but may still be disciplined by the school's policies on conduct. In some cases, a student may even face dual investigations for the same alleged incident.
Second--the future of the new rules themselves may be in question. Attorneys General for 18 states, including Oregon, have filed suit against the DOE regarding these rule changes. Additionally, it is widely believed that if a Democratic administration is voted into office in 2020, the new administration will rescind the new DOE rules.
The side effect is that depending on individual school rules or the status of the DOE rules, a student accused of sexual misconduct may actually fare worse than before the new rules were put in place.
Why You Need an Attorney-Advisor
The ramifications of sexual misconduct allegations are quite serious, and schools are under pressure to bring swift justice. A ruling against you can seriously hurt your reputation and career chances, at the very least. Hiring an attorney-advisor can give you the added advantage of knowledge and experience, increasing your chances for a positive outcome. An attorney- advisor can help you understand the most updated information on DOE and school policies to ensure your rights are protected during any disciplinary investigation. The advisor can procure witnesses to share on your behalf, as well as gather evidence to bolster your defense. And even in an advisory capacity, the involvement of an attorney helps to keep the school accountable to their own policies and procedures, so due process is preserved. In many cases, this added support can save the student's reputation and career.
Experienced Oregon College Sexual Misconduct Advisor
You don't have to face sexual misconduct allegations alone. The sooner you reach out to an experienced attorney advisor, the better your chances for a positive outcome. The Lento Law Firm has extensive experience in successful student discipline defense cases, and Joseph D. Lento is a pre-eminent expert in Title IX and sexual misconduct cases and school disciplinary cases. Protect your rights and preserve your good name. Give the Lento Law Firm a call at 888-535-3686 to learn how we can help.
Oregon 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:
- Blue Mountain Community College
- Central Oregon Community College
- Chemeketa Community College
- Clackamas Community College
- Clatsop Community College
- Columbia Gorge Community College
- Concordia University Portland
- Corban University
- DeVry University Oregon
- Eastern Oregon University
- Everest College Portland
- George Fox University
- Heald College Portland
- ITT Technical Institute Portland
- Klamath Community College
- Lane Community College
- Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts Portland
- Lewis & Clark College
- Linfield College McMinnville Campus
- Linn Benton Community College
- Marylhurst University
- Mount Angel Seminary
- Mt Hood Community College
- Multnomah University
- New Hope Christian College
- Northwest Christian University
- Oregon Coast Community College
- Oregon College of Art and Craft
- Oregon Institute of Technology
- Oregon State University
- Pacific Northwest College of Art
- Pacific University
- Pioneer Pacific College
- Portland Community College
- Portland State University
- Reed College
- Rogue Community College
- Sanford Brown College Portland
- Southern Oregon University
- Southwestern Oregon Community College
- The Art Institute of Portland
- Tillamook Bay Community College
- Treasure Valley Community College
- Umpqua Community College
- University of Oregon
- University of Phoenix Oregon Campus
- University of Portland
- University of Western States
- Warner Pacific College
- Western Oregon University
- Willamette University
It is critical to make certain the college sexual misconduct investigation at your Oregon 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 Oregon 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.