Sexual Misconduct and Title IX Defense at Columbia University in the City of New York

Finding out that your child has been accused of sexual misconduct in college is a parent's worst nightmare. Discovering that all their hard work could come to nothing because of unfounded allegations and zero-tolerance policies is a devastating prospect. With stakes this high, it is important to have an experienced attorney-advisor by your side to help navigate your school's grievance procedures and defend against unfair allegations.

How Have Title IX and Campus Sexual Misconduct Policies Changed?

Title IX is a federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools and education programs that receive federal money. Over the years, Title IX has become shorthand for sexual harassment on campus, but changes to federal guidance have since limited its scope.

In May of 2020, the Department of Education issued new Title IX regulations. The new guidance specified that “sexual harassment” coming under his policy had to be so “severe, pervasive and objectively offensive” to prevent the victim from participating in their educational program. The guidance also covers sexual assault, dating violence, and quid pro quo sexual harassment, but only that which falls within the educational program and activities of the University. The guidance sets out a specific grievance process that schools have to use when investigating and adjudicating cases that fall under Title IX.

Schools across the country revised their policies in the light of these changes, many of whom bolstered their student codes of conduct to cover sexual harassment offenses no longer covered by Title IX.

Columbia University revised its own policies to comply, and as a result, now has two distinct policies. The school put in place the Interim Title IX Policy that addresses cases covered by the new regulations and maintains its Gender-Based Misconduct Policy that addresses gender-based misconduct not covered by the new regulations.

Who Handles Sexual Misconduct Proceedings at Columbia University?

Student Conduct and Community Standards is the office at Columbia responsible for administering these policies and procedures. The Vice President of Student Affairs and the Title IX Coordinator oversee all cases.

When Does the Interim Title IX Policy Apply?

The Interim Title IX Policy prohibits:

  • Title IX Sexual Harassment
  • Title IX Sexual Assault
  • Title IX Dating Violence
  • Title IX Domestic Violence
  • Title IX Stalking

To come under the Title IX policy, the conduct has to meet the following criteria:

  • The alleged victim and perpetrator are current students or active alumni
  • The alleged incident occurred on University-owned property or in connection with a University program, activity, or student organization, including fraternities and sororities
  • The alleged incident took place in the United States
  • The allegations of sexual harassment would be considered “severe, pervasive and objectively offensive,” therefore creating a hostile educational environment

If any of the allegations come under this threshold, the school must use the Title IX grievance procedure. This procedure includes certain federally assured rights to due process, including the right to a live hearing in which your advisor may directly cross-examine your accuser and any witnesses.

When Does the Gender-Based Misconduct Policy Apply?

The Gender-Based Misconduct Policy prohibits:

  • Sexual assault
  • Domestic violence
  • Dating violence
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Stalking
  • Gender-based harassment
  • Sexual harassment
  • Hostile environment in the context of sexual and gender-based harassment
  • Retaliation

To come under the Title IX policy, the conduct has to meet the following criteria:

  • The alleged incident occurred in connection with a University program or activity, either on or off-campus
  • The alleged misconduct creates a hostile environment for University students
  • The allegations are against current undergraduate, graduate, or professional school students

What Are the Key Differences in the Policy's Jurisdiction?

The Gender-Based Misconduct Policy covers a broader range of situations than the Interim Title IX policy. While the Title IX policy only covers misconduct occurring in the US, the Gender-Based Misconduct Policy applies off-campus and overseas. And while Title IX only applies when both victims and perpetrators are based at the University, someone outside of the University can make allegations of misconduct against a current student under the Gender-Based Misconduct Policy. Lastly, the bar is lower to penalize someone for sexual harassment under the Gender-Based Misconduct Policy, compared to Title IX. It is enough for the sexual conduct to be unwanted to violate this policy, whereas sexual conduct has to be “severe, pervasive and objectively offensive” to be disciplined under Title IX.

When allegations are in violation of both policies, the University investigates under the Interim Title IX Investigation and Hearing Procedure.

What Are the University's Different Resolution Procedures?

When someone reports sexual misconduct to the school, they will make an initial assessment to consider which policy may have been violated and whether there is enough information to begin a disciplinary process.

The school will make the ultimate decision as to whether to pursue a non-punitive resolution such as administrative resolution, mediation, or restorative justice or to launch the formal grievance process with an investigation and adjudication.

School policy notes that the investigation and adjudication of allegations under the Gender-Based Misconduct Policy are reviewed through the Gender-Based Misconduct Investigation and Hearing Panel. At the same time, the investigation and adjudication of allegations under the Interim Title IX Policy are reviewed through the Interim Title IX Investigation and Hearing Procedure.

How Does the University Investigate and Adjudicate Allegations of Sexual Misconduct?

There are two distinct hearing processes for the Interim Title IX policy and Gender-Based Misconduct Policy. However, they share the same key procedural steps.

  • University gives formal notice of investigation
  • Both sides meet with the Investigative Team
  • The Investigative Team speak with each party in detail and ask each party to provide witnesses, evidence, and questions for the other side
  • The investigative team conclude their investigation and summarize their findings in an investigative report
  • Both parties review the report, and the school schedules a pre-determination conference
  • At their pre-determination conference, the accused must formally respond to the charges put to them
  • In Title IX cases, hearings are required, so the matter then proceeds to a Hearing Panel for adjudication
  • In Gender-Based Misconduct cases, if either party requests a hearing at this stage, or the Respondent denies or does not respond to the charges, the matter proceeds to a Hearing Panel for adjudication
  • The school then holds a formal hearing to determine responsibility. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Hearing Panel makes a determination as to whether it was “more likely than not” that the Respondent is responsible for the violation
  • Following a Title IX hearing, the hearing officers will issue a written determination normally within ten days with a rationale and detailing the sanctions imposed
  • Following a Gender-Based Misconduct hearing, the hearing panel will issue their determination typically within three days with a rationale but no sanctions. This determination will then be transmitted to the sanctioning officer, who will then decide upon sanctions

Your advisor can be present and advise you throughout this process, all the way from meetings with the investigative team to lodging an appeal.

Differences Between a Title IX Hearing and Gender-Based Misconduct Policy Hearing

Because cases falling under Title IX must comply with federal guidelines, there is a formal, mandatory due process that the school must abide by.

In Title IX cases, the Parties cannot waive the right to an investigation or hearing. Both parties, their respective advisors, witnesses, and the investigative team all have the opportunity to participate in this hearing. Furthermore, both parties have the opportunity to have their advisor directly cross-examine the other side and any witnesses, including challenging their credibility and asking follow-up questions.

The Gender-Based Misconduct Policy Procedure is not as formal, and the right to due process is far more limited. Indeed, the accuser can request to bypass the investigation stage entirely. If the accuser is underage, there were multiple perpetrators, the case involved a weapon or force, or the University has the means to obtain evidence in another way such as through CCTV, then the University may agree to skip a formal investigation and move to sanction students immediately. Unlike in Title IX cases, students may be pressured to waive their right to a hearing. And if the case does go to a hearing, then witnesses are not involved in the hearing process, and parties cannot cross-examine each other.

While the due process for students differs, students' futures can be imperiled by either process, and a robust defense is absolutely imperative.

What Are the Consequences of Sexual Misconduct at Columbia University?

The University may impose interim measures while it is investigating allegations, such as no-contact directives, restricted access to University property, or even temporary suspension.

If at the end of the grievance process, the University determines that you have violated either the Gender-Based Misconduct Policy or the Interim Title IX Policy, they can impose any combination of the following sanctions:

  • Reprimand
  • Probation
  • Revocation of honors or awards
  • Restriction of access to University facilities or activities
  • Restricted of access to academic or extracurricular activities, organizations, or University services
  • Dismissal or restriction from University employment
  • Removal from student housing
  • Admission revocation
  • Disciplinary Suspension
  • Expulsion

On What Grounds Can You Appeal the University's Decision?

There are four grounds for appealing the University's determination.

  • Procedural irregularity
  • New information
  • Conflict of Interest/Bias
  • Excessiveness or insufficiency of the sanction

The Appellate Panel is made up of the Dean of the Respondent's school, the Dean of the Complainant's school, and a Dean from another school. They will review your case and make a final decision with a panel majority vote.

How Can Attorney Joseph D. Lento Help?

Attorney Joseph D. Lentohas defended hundreds of students all across the nation in Title IX and sexual misconduct cases. Attorney Lento and his team can put their experience and expertise to work for you. Contact us to arrange a consultation. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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