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Lawsuits Against DeVos and the US Department of Education

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Aug 18, 2020 | 0 Comments

Title IX regulations are undergoing substantial alterations, especially with the latest rewrites that took effect on August 14, 2020. While the changes comprise 25 pages of the 2,033-page document, it also includes commentary from 100,000 notice-and-comment participants and incorporates their feedback within the publication.

The most notable changes in the amendment involve narrowing down the definition of hostile environment sexual harassment and restoring due process in campus proceedings. Although many are hailing the changes as fairer, more precise, and more effective, others consider them obstacles for victims seeking justice in sexual misconduct cases.

At the forefront of the criticism is current US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, a defendant in two lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) respectively. Additionally, 18 state attorneys general are voicing their disapproval and dismay at the new changes to Title IX and calling for a stop to the proceedings during the pandemic.

Some students also claim that the rewrites discourage them from pursuing sexual misconduct cases with school and college administrations. They are concerned because witnesses and the accuser now can undergo some questioning by an advisor, which some students fear places them at risk of harm or trauma.

Specifying Hostile Environment Sexual Harassment

On August 14, the US Department of Education made changes to its Title IX regulations, which governs the way schools and colleges approach sexual misconduct claims. Prior to the alterations, the definition of sexual misconduct and what it entails was overly general in its scope and involved mandatory federal reporting criteria.

The new amendments to Title IX regulations expect due process from – and hold colleges accountable for – investigating and dealing with sexual misconduct claims on campus and campus-affiliated buildings.

In the past, the definition of hostile environment sexual harassment as "any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature." The vagueness of the definition led to often severe punishments for students and, for some, were violations of their First Amendment rights to freedom of expression and speech.

The new definition is more specific and involves "unwelcome conduct that a reasonable person would determine is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the school's education program or activity." The new change still protects victims from sexual misconduct, which includes assault, stalking, dating violence, domestic violence, and physical violence.

How Do Changes Affect The Grievance Process?

The new definition emphasizes the degree of responsibility that college administrations have when handling sexual misconduct claims. Those performing investigations for colleges must have the right training and allows cross-examination through an advisor. Ultimately, the goal of these new changes is not just to increase accountability, but to also ensure that abuses of power are not prevalent during the grievance process.

While there are complaints that the new process is more akin to a courtroom than a university, the new changes also mean that college administrations need to up the ante when it comes to establishing procedures that protect their students from sexual misconduct. The college process is not similar to a courtroom process, but the expectation of establishing better accountability measures in school is one of the main objectives behind the change.

The new revisions may come as a relief to many parents and students, especially those with allegations against them who felt that their colleges took unreasonable actions against them. The changes will also affect defendants and decrease the likelihood of disproportionate punishments and the suppression of evidence.

If you or a loved one is part of a sexual misconduct / Title IX case, the new changes may have an impact on its final result. To ensure the best possible legal outcome for your case, contact Lento Law Firm. Advisor Lento has successfully helped hundreds of students accused of sexual misconduct receive fair and equitable treatment throughout the investigation and questioning process. Sexual misconduct allegations have life-long implications and reduce your chances of success later on. Contact Lento Law Firm for a consultation today at (888) 535-3686.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience passionately fighting for the futures of his clients. Mr. Lento represents students and others in disciplinary cases and other proceedings at universities and colleges across the United States while concurrently fighting in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania counties, and New Jersey. Mr. Lento has helped countless students, professors, and others in academia at more than a thousand universities and colleges across the United States. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide.

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