Arizona academic institutions take allegations of sexual assault and misconduct incredibly seriously. Title IX mandates that all federally funded K-12 schools, colleges and universities respond to allegations and provide support for victims. Unfortunately, college employees are sometimes at the center of such allegations. A false accusation of sexual misconduct can launch an upstanding employee into a labyrinth of investigations and hearings. As much as you might hope such proceedings would be transparent, they often are not. If you're the subject of a Title IX sexual misconduct allegation, an experienced advisor can guide you through. Attorney Joe Lento can protect both your rights and your job.
About Title IX
Title IX is one of the many Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”), 20 U.S.C. §1681 et seq. This federal civil rights law prohibits discrimination “on the basis of sex” in all academic institutions funded by the federal government. Title IX rules apply to K through 12 public schools as well as publicly-funded colleges and universities in Arizona.
Under Title IX, no individual in the United States may be discriminated upon the basis of sex. They also cannot be excluded from participating or denied benefits because of their sex. So long as a person is enrolled or works for an academic institution that receives federal financial assistance, sex-based discrimination is not allowed.
When colleges in Arizona accept federal funding, they agree to avoid sex discrimination in athletics, employment, hiring, and admissions. The U.S. Department of Education created regulations that outline how schools should respond to Title IX allegations. They also delineated how the accused and potential victims should be protected during the process. Unfortunately, these regulations can be quite confusing for the average person. An experienced Title IX attorney can help you navigate the best course forward.
How Title IX Affects You
While we traditionally think of Title IX as applying to students, the law also applies to employees, professors, faculty, administrators, coaches, and trainers. Even graduate assistants and resident assistants fall under Title IX regulations. While Title IX serves to protect employees from sex-based discrimination, they can also be subject to Title IX disciplinary proceedings. Title IX prohibits the following conduct from employees:
- Sexual harassment, like quid pro quo favors and the creation of a hostile environment
- Sexual assault, including non-consensual sex, non-consensual sexual contact, incest, and statutory rape
- Domestic violence
- Dating or intimate partner violence
Title IX Proceedings, Explained
When serious criminal allegations are levied, Title IX mandates that the college investigate – even if no employee or student lodges an official complaint. Many times, this leads overzealous administrators to launch unnecessary Title IX actions. Since many universities are ill-prepared to handle complex investigations and hearings in a transparent way, the due process rights of the accused are often disregarded.
- The Complaint Title IX actions start with a complaint. It must be formally filed with the school's Title IX Coordinator. This coordinator will review the complaint and decide whether to pursue a Title IX action against you.
- Notification Upon receiving the complaint and initiating a Title IX action, the coordinator is required to notify you and other respondents. Notifications should feature details about the complaint, any alleged Title IX violations, and the name of the complainant. The notification will inform you of your rights, potential sanctions, and a warning that even if you opt not to participate in the process, the action will proceed regardless.
- Investigation The Title IX Coordinator appoints an investigator to meet with you and with your accuser. They'll review the evidence and interview witnesses. Retaining a Title IX attorney-advisor is a good idea – as soon as you receive notice of the allegations you're facing, an advisor can step in to ensure the investigator reviews all exculpatory evidence.
- Investigator's Report Upon completion of the investigation, the investigator will issue a report of their findings. Both the complainant and the respondent will have an opportunity to review and respond to the report. This is the time when you might offer changes before the investigator sends the report to the Title IX Coordinator.
- Decision-Making Phase Upon receiving the report, the coordinator initiates the disciplinary phase. Hearings are an option at the K-12 level in Arizona, but college and university employees have the right to a hearing before a neutral arbiter.
- Title IX Hearing Both parties have the right to be represented by attorney-advisors at the Title IX hearing. You'll also have the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses – including the accuser – challenge evidence, as well as introduce your own witnesses and evidence.
- Hearing Determination Some hearings are proceeded over by a panel of arbiters. Others are led by a single decision-maker. Either way, they must find that you are responsible “by a preponderance of evidence.” This is a lower bar than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” threshold used in criminal courts. Unfortunately, that means it's more likely than not that you'll be found responsible for Title IX violations.
- Appeals After the hearing concludes, both parties have the opportunity to appeal the decision within a short time – typically ten business days. Appeals are only granted under very limited circumstances, like new evidence coming to light, obvious bias on the part of a hearing official, or a mistake in the proceedings. An attorney-advisor is essential to the submission of a well-drafted appeal.
How an Experienced Title IX Advisor Helps
Stakes are incredibly high for university employees facing Title IX allegations in Arizona. If found responsible for the allegations, you could be fired and forced to carry the weight of the findings on your resume for the rest of your career. Student employees may discover that a Title IX finding results in their academic suspension or expulsion. The Title IX disciplinary process can derail even the most respected careers – which is why it's so important to work with an experienced Title IX attorney.
Joseph D. Lento has the first-hand experience necessary to represent you in Title IX proceedings. The entire Lento Law Firm has worked tirelessly to help college and university employees navigate the complexities of the Title IX disciplinary process. Call the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 or contact them online to discuss your options today.