Sexual Misconduct Defense and Title IX Defense at the University of Alabama

If someone has accused you of sexual misconduct at the University of Alabama, it can feel like the odds are stacked against you. In recent years schools and colleges have felt cultural pressure to come down hard on students accused of sexual misconduct. With your reputation, education, and future prospects at stake, it is vital that you are informed, proactive, and take active steps to defend yourself. You must understand Title IX regulation as well as your school's disciplinary policy. Knowing your rights, being aware of your time window for appeal, and having an experienced attorney advisor to fight in your corner will give you the best possible chance at a favorable outcome.

Alabama Colleges and Title IX

Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sexual discrimination, including harassment, in federally funded educational institutions across Alabama and the United States.

Schools must comply with the up-to-date guidance issued by the Department of Education on how to implement Title IX.

Former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos brought significant changes to the Title IX rule in 2020, bringing greater protections for accused students.

The DeVos guidance Title IX narrowed the range of misconduct prohibited by Title IX. The new guidelines narrowed the definition of harassment to “unwelcome conduct” determined to be “severe, pervasive and objectively offensive.” Title IX also no longer covered offenses that took place off-campus housing or overseas.

Historically, colleges have processed nearly all their sexual misconduct claims under Title IX. Since the definition of Title IX, sexual harassment has narrowed, many schools, including The University of Alabama, have their own sexual misconduct policy for handling prohibited conduct that does not meet the threshold of Title IX.

This means many schools, including The University of Alabama, have a dual adjudication system with two different processes for handling sexual misconduct. Two disciplinary processes mean different rights to due process and even different rights to appeal. With school misconduct policies more complicated than before, it is especially important to have an advisor who knows the system.

University of Alabama Code of Conduct

All students, upon enrollment at the University of Alabama, agree to follow the Capstone Creed, which reads, “As a member of the University of Alabama community, I will pursue knowledge; act with fairness, integrity, and respect; promote equality and inclusion; foster individual and civic responsibility; and strive for excellence in all I do.”

The school has a responsibility to create a safe environment for its students and uphold their rights. In turn, students must all follow the student Code of Conduct and Title IX and Sexual Misconduct Policy.

When it comes to allegations of sexual misconduct, there are two separate grievance processes: the Title IX Process and the Sexual Misconduct Process. One process is federally compliant and is for allegations that come under Title IX. The other process is for sexual misconduct, which does not meet the requirements of Title IX.

These policies apply at all University of Alabama campuses, including at Birmingham and Huntsville. Each campus has its own fully staffed Title IX office equipped to handle investigations and discipline according to University policy.

The University of Alabama: Your School's Title IX and Sexual Misconduct Policy

The University of Alabama's Title IX and Sexual Misconduct Policy protects students, faculty, staff, and visitors from discrimination on the basis of gender, sex, gender identity or expression, or sexual orientation.

Conduct prohibited by The University of Alabama's Title IX and Sexual Misconduct Policy includes “sexual assault, sex or gender-based harassment, exploitation, dating and domestic violence, stalking, as well as discrimination based on sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, and related retaliation.”

The school has a strict reporting policy, and employees are obliged to report suspected misconduct.

Sexual harassment comes under Title IX if it “is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the school's education program or activity.” It must also take place in the United States and within a university education program or activity. If it does, this constitutes Title IX Prohibited Conduct.

In situations where Prohibited Conduct meets both the Title IX Process and Sexual Misconduct Process requirements, the Title IX Process will apply. When someone makes a complaint against you, the Title IX Coordinator will first assess the case. They will determine whether it should be addressed under the Title IX Process or the Sexual Misconduct Process. They may dismiss it outright if it fails to meet the requirements.

If the school suspects you of Title IX prohibited conduct and separately suspects you of violating the student code in an unrelated incident, the school may launch two parallel disciplinary processes against you.

The Title IX Office processes the allegations of Title IX or Sexual Misconduct Prohibited Conduct, and the Office of Student Conduct will process the potential violations of the Code of Student Conduct.

Title IX Grievance Process at Alabama State University

If someone has made a formal complaint against you, The Office of Equal Opportunity and Title IX will make an initial assessment and decide to dismiss or investigate the complaint. They may dismiss the allegation as a Title IX claim but pursue it as sexual misconduct prohibited conduct. The school must give you notice of any investigation against you and inform you of your rights. The Title IX Office will investigate the incident, interviewing witnesses to determine whether it is more likely than not that you violated school policy. If the written report finds that it is more likely than not you are guilty of prohibited conduct, your case will proceed to a hearing. At this hearing, the school will determine a factual finding of your guilt and decide on any sanctions.

The formal Title IX process proceeds in the following order

  • Initial assessment
  • Notice of investigation
  • Investigation
  • Pre-hearing meeting
  • Hearing
  • Appeal

To comply with federal Title IX guidelines, the school must allow you to have a live hearing where your advisor or attorney advisor can lead your cross-examination. Your attorney advisor may ask the other party and witnesses all relevant questions and follow-up questions, including those challenging credibility.

Sexual Misconduct Grievance Process

The school may not pursue a Title IX grievance process against you but pursue a sexual misconduct grievance process. Someone may have accused you of sexual harassment which does not meet the current threshold of Title IX harassment. For example, sexual exploitation or gender-based harassment.

Alternatively, someone may have accused you of conduct that would have met the threshold for Title IX prohibited behavior, except that it occurred outside the jurisdiction of Title IX. For instance, you may have been accused of misconduct occurring outside a program or activity of the University or outside the United States.

Appeals

After the final determination at a formal hearing, you have seven days to appeal in writing. If you do not request an appeal in this seven-day time limit, the decision and sanctions decided at the hearing will be deemed final.

There are four grounds for appeal for sexual misconduct findings:

  • Procedural irregularity
  • Disproportionate sanctions
  • New evidence emerging
  • Conflict of interest or bias

Penalties of Sexual Misconduct at University of Alabama

The Code of Student Conduct dictates sanctions/remedies imposed against students

Disciplinary sanctions include:

  • Warning
  • Probation
  • Loss of privileges
  • No contact order
  • Campus ban/no-trespass warning from UAPD
  • Campus access limitations
  • Residence hall suspension or transfer/expulsion
  • Educational assignment
  • Fines
  • Restitution
  • Community service
  • University suspension
  • Deferred Suspension
  • University Expulsion

The Dean of Students may also impose interim measures before the hearing, including a full interim suspension, removal from University housing, removal from University-sponsored events, or access restrictions to University facilities and programs.

Even when faced with lesser penalties, the reputational damage of sexual misconduct allegations can have far-reaching and damaging consequences for your future. Therefore you should take even more minor allegations of misconduct against you very seriously. You can be sure your school will.

Joseph D. Lento: Experienced College Sexual Misconduct Advisor

Attorney Joseph D. Lento has successfully defended students all across the nation in Title IX and sexual misconduct cases. If you are under investigation for sexual misconduct, you should waste no time launching a defense. Contact us online or call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686.

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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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