Facing allegations of sexual misconduct, like assault or harassment, in a college or university can be a life-altering event. This is particularly true because of the role that Title IX plays in the investigation, hearing process, and punishment phase of cases of sexual misconduct – Title IX can pressure your school to find that you violated their policies, rushing to a conclusion before you have had an opportunity to defend yourself and be heard.
One way to protect your rights is to file an OCR complaint. These filing spur investigations into your school's response to the allegations that were levied against you, providing a crucial layer of oversight that the Title IX hearing committees in most colleges desperately need. Joseph D. Lento, a student discipline defense and Title IX attorney, can help you make these filings and help you protect your rights and interests at this crucial juncture in your life.
What is an OCR Complaint?
An OCR complaint is a written request to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), asking them to investigate and monitor an ongoing procedure. The OCR is one of the government agencies that look into claims of unfair treatment and unequal access to higher education. Many of the cases that they handle involve the denial of rights, including the due process rights of students who have been accused of sexual misconduct in violation of Title IX.
How Can the OCR Help?
By bringing the OCR into your Title IX case, you can rest assured that there is a major government agency who is monitoring how your case moves, and how it has progressed, in the past. Unlike your college or university, the OCR will take your due process rights very seriously, knowing that these rights are the bastion of justice in America – without them, the accused person can be prevented from effectively defending themselves against the charges they are facing, leaving them vulnerable to a conviction, even if they are completely innocent.
How Does an OCR Complaint Fit into the Title IX Process?
If you have been accused of sexual misconduct on a U.S. campus, the school will initiate its investigation. As they gather evidence, this will flow into a hearing process that is insulated within the school – there will be no judges, no jury, few rules of evidence, and rarely a lawyer to defend you. Frequently, the outcome of this process is a foregone conclusion; you will be found in violation of Title IX and sanctioned according to the school's guidelines.
A common next step is to file an appeal with the school. However, while these appeals are occasionally successful in mitigating or reducing the penalty, they are rarely enough to overcome a finding of responsibility. While this appeal is rarely successful in getting the outcome changed, it does exhaust your remedies within the school, allowing you to seek the help of outside agencies.
This is where your complaint to the OCR comes in. You can initiate their involvement in your case by filing your complaint once your internal appeal has run its course, bringing them into the debate to review what has happened and look for violations to your due process rights.
Timeline for OCR Complaints
Complaints to the OCR should be made within 180 days of the last instance of discrimination. In the case of students who are being found responsible for Title IX violations, the last instance of discrimination is frequently the denial of the student's appeal.
However, the 180-day window is not set in stone. Exceptions can be made, though they require a waiver, a written explanation, and substantial evidence to show that you had a reason to file outside of the allotted timeframe.
How an Attorney Can Help You File an OCR Complaint
Lawyers who have filed OCR complaints before are absolutely invaluable to students who want to protect their rights against a Title IX accusation, as their past experience with the process can give them valuable insight into best practices for your particular situation.
For example, the OCR complaint process provides two different ways for you to file your initial complaint with the agency:
- You can write your own letter, or
- You can use the OCR's template for a complaint
People who are unfamiliar with the process might be daunted by the prospect of writing their own letter, while also understanding that the template will limit the impact of their complaint. Having an attorney to help you through the process, though, will help you to choose the best option for your given circumstance.
Having a lawyer can be especially important if the 180-day window for filing an OCR complaint has elapsed, as filing outside of the time period requires extra paperwork and a showing of good cause. Lawyers who have made such showings in the past know what this takes, and that knowledge can be invaluable to someone who needs the OCR's help and oversight in their Title IX case.
Finally, if you have a lawyer complete your OCR complaint, you can rest assured that it is done properly and that you will not have to strain and agonize over what can be an uncertain process for non-lawyers. Instead, you can focus your care and attention on the other aspects of your life that would otherwise pass you by while you assemble your OCR complaint.
Joseph D. Lento: A Title IX Attorney Who Can Help
Joseph D. Lento is a student discipline defense attorney and national Title IX defense lawyer who helps students across the country who have been accused of sexual misconduct and who face sanctions under Title IX. One of the many ways that attorney Lento can help you is by guiding you through the OCR complaint process and ensuring the agency gets brought in to monitor your case.
If you have been found responsible of a Title IX violation at your college or university, you need attorney Lento's help. Contact him online or call him at (888) 535-3686 to protect your rights and interests during this trying time.