Single Investigator Model in Title IX Cases

The single investigator model is one method that schools use to investigate allegations of Title IX violations (subject to the new Title IX rules going into effect in August 2020 which may or may not be the case as the new rules are being challenged on multiple fronts, including in the courts, in an effort to prevent them from actually going into effect). The single investigator model can occur in two different forms, but in both great power is put into a single person, and very little outside input goes into the investigation of whether a Title IX violation in fact occurred. This can present significant risks to a person accused of a Title IX violation, as that person may not receive a fair investigation and hearing about what took place, and what sanctions, if any, are appropriate.

This model has been greatly challenged, and recent court cases have demonstrated the weaknesses presented by this model, as opposed to a hearing model utilized by many other campuses. Whether this method is considered appropriate or inappropriate often depends on who you talk to, and whether the decision came out in that person's favor or not. However, understanding this method and how it may affect your case is important either way.

If you are a college student, employee, or faculty facing Title IX violation allegations, experienced Title IX defense attorney Joseph D. Lento is here to help. You have the right to defend yourself against these allegations.

Experienced Title IX Defense Attorney

Joseph D. Lento has many years of experience in defending those accused of Title IX violations, including students, international students, employees, and professors at universities and colleges throughout the United States. Understanding the ins and outs of Title IX cases requires the type of hard work and experience Lento brings to work with him every single day. Every case deserves the best possible protection, including yours.

Joseph Lento is an experienced negotiator, and some Title IX cases can be resolved amicably with the right negotiator by your side. When cases cannot be resolved through such efforts, he has the years of experience needed to fight your case all the way to the end, including through any necessary appeal. You will always rest easy, knowing that your rights are protected by a highly competent attorney.

What is Title IX?

Title IX of the Education Amendments is a federal civil rights law that forbids discrimination on the basis of gender committed by or against students, staff, and faculty in higher education institutions that receive federal funding. Gender discrimination can be committed against women, men, and transgender individuals.

Sexual misconduct is considered gender-based discrimination, along with proven instances of bullying, employment discrimination, and unfair and disproportionate opportunities in intercollegiate sports and educational programs.

Colleges and universities receiving federal funding maintain their compliance with Title IX by handling any of reported cases of gender-based discrimination. All parties involved in a case - whether they be students or employees of a college - will be required to undergo their school's Title IX processes.

The Single Investigator Model

The investigator model has seen an uptick in adoption by schools under changes in federal law and guidelines for Title IX since the Obama-era 2011 "Dear Colleague" letter which provided a framework for schools and other institutions to implement their Title IX disciplinary procedures. Many schools placed the responsibility for investigation of Title IX cases into the hands of a singular individual, rather than a group or committee. While this model has been around for a very long time, it had not become popular until recently, and has shifted the ever-changing landscape of Title IX defense.

This model operates in one of two typical variations:

Variation 1

Under the first model, the investigator acts as police, judge, and jury. This means that the investigator handles the entire investigation, as well as the adjudication phase of the case. During the investigation, the investigator will:

  • interview witnesses
  • perform searches of property (within legal limits or with party consent)
  • interview the parties
  • investigate criminal histories, if any
  • discuss with third parties such as counselors if authorized to do so
  • investigate in other ways deemed necessary and appropriate

During the investigation phase, it is the investigator's duty to attempt to determine whether the complaint against you has any merit. This is not yet to decide what to do about it, or even make an official binding determination, but rather an attempt to learn everything possible about the situation.

In this model, after the investigation itself is complete, the investigator also gets to make the determination, officially, of what he or she believes occurred. The investigator will first determine, based upon a preponderance of the evidence standard, whether the complainant's allegations are sufficiently supported by the evidence. If the investigator determines that the complaint is insufficiently supported by the evidence, the case against you is dismissed.

If, however, the investigator determines the complaint to be supported by the evidence, he or she will also get to determine what the appropriate sanction will be. This effectively makes the investigator "judge, jury, and executioner" as the saying goes. This puts a great deal of power into the hand of one person, rather than in a committee as has been the previously favored approach.

Variation 2

The second variation of the single investigator model is similar in the beginning. The investigator goes through the investigatory process just as the investigator would do so in the first variation of the model. The investigator is still attempting collect and gather evidence that would support or refute the allegations leveled against the respondent by the complainant. 

Where this variation greatly differs is that once the investigator concludes the investigation part of the process, the actual adjudication is given to other parties. Once all of the reports and data are collected, they are handed over to this other party or parties who will then determine whether the complainant's version of events is to be believed. Often, for purposes of expediency and cost, this step is also only performed by a single person, ableit a different person than the original investigator. 

While both variations have their supporters and detractors, each carries with it certain risks for the respondent when dealing with a complaint of sexual discrimination, harassment, or violence.

Why have schools adopted this model?

While this model has been around a long time, its popularity over the past decade has taken place due to more lenient guidelines put in place in recent federal law changes. Although there are many who feel this change is not for the better, it makes the institution's life easier in many ways, and they therefore wish to adopt it. 

This single investigator model requires much less training of employees. While typical methods required pools of qualified adjudicators to be trained, the single investigator model requires instead that only one or a few investigators be trained for Title IX investigations. This is a significant cost reduction for trainings of multiple employees, so schools are often eager to adopt this cheaper model.

The speed of these investigations is also likely to be increased as a result of the single investigator model. Panels and hearings take much more time than the work of one person. This "clears" cases faster and permit more work to get done by less people, again, saving the institution money.

While there may be many advantages to the school in adopting this model, all too often it is the parties who suffer as a result. With the help of an experienced Title IX defense lawyer at your side who is familiar with these pitfalls, you can better protect yourself against unfair investigations and appeals.

How the Single Investigator Model can Negatively Affect Your Case

The single investigator model can a detrimental affect on your case. With so much power in the hands of one person, there is much less of a guarantee that your case will be handled fairly and with impartiality. Because of this concentration of power in one individual, there are less safeguards that exist to protect the rights of the accused. If the investigator is influenced by the complainant in some way to believe his or her side of the events, there is little that can be done to prove what actually occurred.

A single person is more likely to succumb to emotions such as pity or protectionism that may result in a higher than appropriate sanction considering the facts at hand. An investigator also hears the version of events from the complainant first, creating a sort of unintentional bias in the complainant's favor. This natural bias is often offset when the case goes to another set of parties, and is investigated by multiple people. In the single investigator model, this protection does not exist, resulting in major risks to the impartiality of the investigator.

The Case of Doe v. University of Sciences

In the case of Doe v. University of Sciences, two students, sorority sisters, filed Title IX claims against a male individual alleging that the accused student had sexually assaulted them. These sexual assaults occurred in different incidents, and both had occurred months before the reports were made. The first accuser appears to have persuaded the second accuser to file. Although the University of the Sciences promises fairness in its investigations, it employs a single-investigator model; the same person handled both allegations. After interviewing the parties, the investigator returned a guilty finding. Doe appealed but was expelled halfway through his senior year.

In the case, the respondent, Doe, claimed that the single investigator demonstrated selective enforcement as well as deliberate indifference to the outcome of the case against him. Doe claimed that the university utilized an investigator that automatically believed the complainants without conducting a proper investigation. He claimed that this bias against him by the investigator, who was female, was due to his own gender as a male.

The Court eventually determined that Doe did satisfy his burden to claim that the University of Sciences discriminated against him on the basis of his gender, and later dismissed his complaint. However, the case strongly demonstrates the challenges posed by the single investigator model. Without the input of other investigators or those who can adjudicate the case on their own information, the likelihood that a single person's bias can affect the case is much higher.

The Problem of Implicit Bias

Implicit bias, at a very basic level, assumes that each individual has certain biases in favor of or against certain attributes that characterize people. The most common implicit bias in Title IX cases, is the assumption that most complainants are telling the truth. While complainants should be listened to, and their accusations investigated, there should never be an assumption that the complainant is telling the truth (or that he or she is lying for that matter). Instead, the investigator is supposed to respond to the accusations of Title IX violations without bias, and investigate the matter without any assumptions about whether the complainant is telling the truth or lying.

The problem created by the single investigator model is that there is no checks and balances system for this and other types of implicit bias. A group of people trained to handle Title IX investigations and sanction determinations are better equipped to render an impartial verdict based on facts, rather than emotion, sympathy, or bias. Whether this bias is at a subconscious level, or is an intentional act on the part of the investigator, another group can, in most cases, provide some form of buffer for this issue.

Why an Attorney is Essential in Title IX Cases

Title IX cases, from beginning to end, are incredibly complicated. If you are accused of sexual misconduct or gender discrimination, the consequences can be very severe if there is a finding against you. Because of modern trends, alleged "victim's" stories are often automatically believed without any real investigation, and you are then punished based on assumptions. Title IX requires an actual investigation, and so often this does not occur properly if the respondent is not represented by an attorney.

Consult an Experienced Title IX Defense Lawyer

If you stand accused of a Title IX violation, there are some very serious consequences that could occur if you are found to have violated. No matter what model of investigator is used, you have rights that deserve to be protected. The long-term harm of choosing to go it alone can be catastrophic, emotionally and financially.

Attorney Joseph D. Lento has a firm understanding of the consequences and has helped countless students accused of Title IX violations defend their case. Contact attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today for help.

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