Over the last decade, the public has scrutinized sexual assault policies at universities across the country. High profile lawsuits, arrests, and million-dollar settlements have put some overreaching rules in the spotlight. As a result, at the end of July, the University of Missouri Board of Curators approved changes to Title IX policies for the university. The changes follow new federal Title IX regulations, which go into effect nationwide on August 14, 2020.
What is Title IX?
Title IX is a federal civil rights law enacted by Congress as part of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”), 20 U.S.C. §1681 et seq. The legislation prohibits discrimination “on the basis of sex” for federally funded schools. While Congress initially intended Title IX to cover sex discrimination in admission, financial aid, sports, and employment decisions in federally funded schools, over the last 40 years, case law and federal guidelines expanded the scope of the law. Title IX now also prohibits sexual assault and harassment, including intimate partner violence and stalking. The law applies to all educational institutions that accept federal funds, including public K-12 schools, colleges, and universities.
Changes to Title IX Regulations
In May of this year, the U.S. Department of Education finalized new regulations for Title IX. The final regulations aim to set forth, “clear legal obligations that require recipients to: Promptly respond to individuals who are alleged to be victims of sexual harassment by offering supportive measures; follow a fair grievance process to resolve sexual harassment allegations when a complainant requests an investigation or a Title IX Coordinator decides on the recipient's behalf that an investigation is necessary; and provide remedies to victims of sexual harassment.”
The changes include:
- Redefining “sexual harassment” to include three different types, including:
- Quid pro quo harassment;
- Unwelcome conduct that a reasonable person would find so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal educational access; and
- Any incident involving sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, or stalking.
- Schools must offer “supportive measures” to any alleged victim of sexual harassment;
- Schools must initiate a grievance process for any formal complaint;
- If there is no formal complaint, the “deliberate indifference standard” will apply to any school's decision not to investigate;
- Implementing additional due process measures for both parties, including:
- Written notice of the allegations to both parties
- Allowing both parties to present evidence
- Live hearings with cross-examinations conducted by the parties' advisors, who may be attorneys
Schools must also implement additional staff training regarding Title IX grievance procedures and policies, impartiality, and definitions of sexual harassment. Schools must make these training materials available upon request.
The University of Missouri Decision
While the University of Missouri's Board of Curators voted to implement changes ensuring UM's compliance with the new federal regulations, some of the school's current policies already comply with new rules. For example, UM Title IX policies already entitle both parties to written notice of the allegations and have attorneys as advisors. However, those advisors weren't allowed to be directly involved in cross-examining witnesses. Under the new rules, attorney-advisors will conduct all questioning during a hearing.
Under the new rules, UM hearings permit the parties to a case to be in separate rooms and use technology to see, hear, and question other parties. While university officials expressed concern that making a Title IX hearing into a mini-trial will increase the financial burden on the students involved, they also embraced additional due process rights for both parties.
Hire an Experienced Title IX Attorney-Advisor
If you or your child face a university or college Title IX investigation or hearing, you should speak with an experienced Title IX or student discipline attorney as soon as possible. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has many years of experience representing student defendants in Title IX and other disciplinary matters. He has successfully resolved matters through both negotiations and hearings at more than a thousand schools across the country. Call the Lento Law Firm a call at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.