If you've been charged with sexual misconduct by your college or university, you probably have a lot of questions.
- Will I get a chance to tell my side of the story?
- Can I continue as a student while the school investigates?
- How will this affect my academic career?
Here, we try to offer some answers because the more you know about what you're facing, the better able you'll be to defend yourself.
You should know right from the start, though, that sexual misconduct investigations and hearings can be complicated and confusing. This can be the case at University of Akron and at most any school nationwide. The rules are set by government law and school policy, and they can be obscure and difficult to interpret. In short, while it's important to find out as much as you can about how your school treats such accusations, you can't deal with this situation on your own. You need professional help from a qualified, experienced attorney.
So, before you dive into all this information about notification procedures and standards of evidence, take the time to contact a lawyer, someone who can help you navigate the often treacherous waters of sexual misconduct cases. There's too much at risk not to.
For a number of years, colleges and universities have dealt with most sexual misconduct accusations using the federal Title IX statute. This law, passed in 1972, guarantees women the right to an equal education. Sexual misconduct can interfere with that right, so under the law, schools have an obligation to punish students who engage in such behaviors.
From the beginning, though, Title IX has been the subject of contention. No one believes that women don't deserve equal rights, but there are large disagreements as to how the law should be enforced. As a result, Title IX remains in a constant state of flux, with the courts and presidential administrations continually refining how it operates.
The most recent changes occurred in 2020 when the Trump administration issued brand new guidelines. Among other things, these guidelines narrowed the definitions of “discrimination” and “harassment” and limited schools' jurisdictional authority. In response, many schools revised their own policies specifically to cover incidents that new fell outside of this new, stricter interpretation of Title IX. Currently, then, it is common for schools to maintain two sexual misconduct policies: one for Title IX offenses and one for non-Title IX offenses.
Like other schools, the University of Akron remains committed to investigating sexual misconduct even when it falls outside the narrow Title IX definitions. However, it has chosen to use the same investigation and hearing processes for all cases.
Title IX Investigations
All Title IX cases begin with a formal complaint, and as with every other aspect of UA’s policy, non-Title IX cases are treated the same. Every member of the University of Akron's staff is required to report incidents they learn about. However, only a complainant or the school's designated Title IX Coordinator may sign a formal complaint.
Once a complaint has been signed, the school is required to supply respondents (defendants) with notice of the charges. This notice should include the name of the accuser as well as details about the alleged incident itself.
The school is required to offer support services to the complainant, including medical care and counseling. They may also offer such accommodations as housing and course schedule changes. Title IX demands that respondents be offered the very same support services as respondents.
The school must apprise respondents of their rights. This includes the right to be presumed innocent until proven responsible and the right to an advisor, who may be an attorney.
Finally, the school appoints an investigator. This person has 75 days to interview both parties, talk with witnesses, and collect physical evidence. At the conclusion of the investigation, the investigator completes a full written report of their findings. Both sides then have ten days to respond to this report and make suggestions for revision before it is forwarded to the Title IX Coordinator.
Title IX Hearings
Under Title IX, all students are entitled to defend themselves at a live hearing. Again, non-Title IX cases at UA are treated in the same way. Once the Title IX Coordinator receives the investigator's report, they set a hearing date and appoint a Hearing Officer to oversee the next phase in the case.
At the hearing, both sides are entitled to present evidence and to question each other and any witnesses. Only advisors and the Hearing Officer, however, may actually ask questions. In addition, the Hearing Officer maintains order and determines whether or not each side's questions are appropriate.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the Hearing Officer makes a determination as to the respondent's responsibility. In doing so, they use the “preponderance of evidence” standard. This standard, far less strict than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard, requires only that the Hearing Officer believe it is “more likely than not” that the respondent committed the violation.
The Hearing Officer is also responsible for assigning any necessary sanctions.
After the Hearing
Both sides in the case have the right to appeal the findings of the Hearing Officer. Appeals must be made with ten days of the conclusion of the hearing, though. In addition, they can only be made for certain very specific reasons:
- Procedural irregularities
- New evidence
- Bias among one or more Title IX officials
- Misapplication of policy
- No reasonable basis for the findings
- Disproportionate punishment
The school lists a number of possible sanctions for those students found responsible for sexual misconduct, including fines, educational sanctions, and probation. However, the minimum penalty in such cases is typically suspension, and expulsion is the far more likely outcome.
Contact Attorney Joseph D. Lento
The rules for sexual misconduct investigations and hearings are complicated, so much so that schools themselves often get things wrong. Make sure you have someone on your side who knows the procedures and can protect your rights.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento specializes in sexual misconduct cases. He built his career representing students from all types of school allegations. Joseph D. Lento knows Title IX, including its history and politics. He also knows how school justice systems work. Whatever your situation, attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm are committed to getting you the very best possible outcome.
If you or your child has been accused of sexual misconduct by your college or university, don't wait. Contact attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm today at 888-555-3686 or by using our automated online form.