College students in Tennessee who are accused of sexual misconduct face an uncertain future at best. Recent changes in policy rules from the U.S. Department of Education have created a confusing climate for investigating misconduct claims and rendering appropriate punishment—and in many cases, the wrongfully accused may pay an unfortunate price. Having an attorney-advisor during such investigations can help protect the due process rights of the accused, possibly saving his/her reputation and career in the process. If you're facing such allegations, here's what you need to know.
Why Students Accused of Sexual Misconduct Are at Risk
Most colleges and universities receive some type of federal funding. Therefore, they are required by law to pursue allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault under Title IX, and to discipline the guilty appropriately. If schools fail to do so following federal rules, they risk losing their funding. This puts colleges and universities under a lot of pressure to be aggressive in their investigations. As a result, some students facing sexual misconduct accusations may be disproportionately punished or denied due process.
To make things even more confusing, the Department of Education (DOE) recently unveiled significant rule changes regarding the interpretation of Title IX protections—the section of the law that protects students from gender discrimination. This is the law under which most claims of sexual harassment have been processed in recent years. These new rules were announced in May 2020 and are now being implemented during the 2020-21 school year. While these new regulations were actually intended to afford more protections to the accused, the confusion surrounding them may have the opposite effect.
Changes in Misconduct Allegation Rules
The new rules detailed by the DOE regarding Title IX protections have significantly changed the way schools must now process sexual misconduct claims, the effective jurisdiction the schools have, and even the definition of sexual harassment itself. Let's take a look at the most significant changes.
New hearing processes
Colleges and universities will now have a single hearing process for all allegations of misconduct, whether the accused is a student, faculty, or staff. Investigations will also include live cross-examination of witnesses (courtroom-style), and any witness unwilling to participate in the hearing (including cross-examination) will not have their testimony admitted.
New definitions of school jurisdiction
Schools are responsible for investigating any alleged sexual misconduct or harassment that occurs in locations or events where the school exercises “substantial control,” both on and off-campus. Under these rules, the jurisdiction extends to off-campus parties, events, and even off-campus sorority and fraternity houses. It does not, however, extend to other types of off-campus housing, nor to students in study programs overseas.
“Actual knowledge” versus “reasonably known”
The old rules penalized schools for failing to investigate allegations about which they should have “reasonably known.” Under the new regulations, schools are only responsible for investigating incidents for which they possess “actual knowledge” of the alleged incidents.
New definitions of sexual misconduct/harassment
One of the most potentially impacting rule changes is how the DOE now defines sexual harassment under Title IX. It used to encompass any unwelcome contact of a sexual nature. Now, schools are federally mandated to investigate sexual harassment only as it meets any of the following criteria:
- Dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking
- Quid pro quo (i.e., school staff or faculty attempting to trade favors for sexual acts)
- “Unwelcome conduct so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies someone equal access to education.”
Possible Policy Changes for Tennessee Schools
While the new DOE rules attempt to make it easier for students accused of sexual misconduct to defend themselves, the issue becomes more clouded when it comes to individual schools. The new rules apply nationwide, but they do not prohibit colleges and universities from adopting their own policies regarding sexual misconduct. Some schools have taken the position that the new Title IX interpretations have stripped away too many protections for the victims. As a result, they are revising their own internal student conduct policies to restore these protections. Thus, a student in Tennessee who is wrongly accused of sexual misconduct may not qualify for a Title IX investigation, but may still come under discipline from the school's own revised rules.
To make things even more confusing for students, the new DOE rules themselves may face an uncertain future. Multiple lawsuits have been filed to challenge the rule changes, including a complaint from the Attorneys General of eighteen states. Additionally, the election year may have an impact on the rules as an incoming Democratic administration is likely to rescind them. All this uncertainty has effectively created a chaotic culture in which students accused of misconduct are more likely to face unfair or inappropriate discipline simply from the lack of clarity.
How an Attorney-Advisor Can Help
One thing is clear from the current landscape: A student facing sexual misconduct charges should not attempt to “go it alone.” There are simply too many variables in play that could lead to an unfair negative outcome.
An attorney-advisor who is experienced in student discipline matters will have a clear understanding both of the DOE rules and the school's most current policies and procedures regarding misconduct claims—so you'll receive the best and most up-to-date advice on protecting your rights and presenting your defense. An attorney-advisor can also help assemble evidence and witnesses to help you tell your side of the story. And finally, the involvement of an attorney, even in an advisory capacity, helps keep the school accountable for enforcing its policies regarding student protections and due process. In many cases, merely having an attorney-advisor can make the difference between exoneration and expulsion.
College Sexual Misconduct Advisor for Tennessee Students
If you attend college or university in Tennessee and have recently been accused of sexual misconduct, now is the time to talk to an experienced attorney-advisor. The Lento Law Firm has a long track record of success in defending accused students. Joseph D. Lento is one of the nation's pre-eminent experts on student discipline defense, and he will work on your behalf to ensure your rights, good name, and academic future are protected. Give the Lento Law Firm a call at 888-535-3686 to learn more.
Tennessee 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:
- American Baptist College
- Aquinas College
- Argosy University Nashville
- Austin Peay State University
- Baptist Memorial College of Health Sciences
- Belmont University
- Bethel University
- Bryan College
- Carson Newman College
- Chattanooga College Medical Dental and Technical Careers
- Chattanooga State Community College
- Christian Brothers University
- Cleveland State Community College
- Columbia State Community College
- Cumberland University
- Daymar Institute Clarksville
- Daymar Institute Murfreesboro
- Daymar Institute Nashville
- DeVry University Tennessee
- Dyersburg State Community College
- East Tennessee State University
- Fisk University
- Fortis Institute
- Fortis Institute Nashville
- Fountainhead College of Technology
- Free Will Baptist Bible College
- Freed Hardeman University
- Hiwassee College
- International Academy of Design and Technology Nashville
- ITT Technical Institute Chattanooga
- ITT Technical Institute Cordova
- ITT Technical Institute Johnson City
- ITT Technical Institute Knoxville
- ITT Technical Institute Nashville
- Jackson State Community College
- John A Gupton College
- Johnson University
- King College
- Lane College
- Le Moyne Owen College
- Lee University
- Lincoln Memorial University
- Lipscomb University
- L'Ecole Culinaire
- Martin Methodist College
- Maryville College
- Memphis College of Art
- Middle Tennessee State University
- Miller Motte Technical College Chattanooga
- Miller Motte Technical College Clarksville
- Miller Motte Technical College Madison
- Milligan College
- Motlow State Community College
- Nashville State Community College
- National College of Business and Technology Nashville
- Northeast State Community College
- Nossi College of Art
- O'More College of Design
- Pellissippi State Community College
- Remington College Memphis Campus
- Remington College Nashville Campus
- Rhodes College
- Roane State Community College
- Sewanee The University of the South
- South College
- Southern Adventist University
- Southwest Tennessee Community College
- Tennessee State University
- Tennessee Technological University
- Tennessee Temple University
- Tennessee Wesleyan College
- The Art Institute of Tennessee Nashville
- The University of Tennessee
- The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
- The University of Tennessee Martin
- Trevecca Nazarene University
- Tusculum College
- Union University
- University of Memphis
- University of Phoenix Chattanooga Campus
- University of Phoenix Knoxville
- University of Phoenix Memphis Campus
- University of Phoenix Nashville Campus
- Vanderbilt University
- Vatterott Career College Memphis Appling Farms
- Vatterott Career College Memphis Dividend Drive
- Victory University
- Virginia College School of Business and Health
- Visible Music College
- Volunteer State Community College
- Walters State Community College
- Watkins College of Art Design & Film
- William Moore College of Technology
- Williamson Christian College
It is critical to make certain the college sexual misconduct investigation at your Tennessee 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 Tennessee 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.