Title IX accusations often come out of the blue, and they can catch you completely by surprise. If you've been charged, what do you need to know?
The very first thing you need to know is that the situation is serious. Even minor allegations can get you fired, sometimes even before the school conducts a full investigation. If your school should ultimately find you “responsible” (guilty) for a Title IX violation, your career in education could effectively be over.
The second thing you need to know is that schools don't usually give you the benefit of the doubt. The law says that they must presume you are “not responsible” (innocent) until you're proven responsible. In today's political climate, though, many colleges and universities feel pressured to react to allegations before those allegations have a chance to balloon into scandals. As a result, you may find that investigators treat you unfairly or that decision-makers don't give your evidence the full weight it deserves.
The most important thing you need to know, though, is that you do have rights. We'll get into those in more detail, but among them, you have the right to an advisor, someone to help you prepare your defense and represent you at investigative meetings and hearings. Even better, this advisor can be an attorney. It's important you take full advantage of this right, however. That means you can't just hire any lawyer. You need someone who knows the law and who has experience representing clients in academia. You need Joseph D. Lento.
The Basics of Title IX
Title IX is a federal law passed in 1972 that prohibits sexual discrimination on college campuses. The law was meant to force colleges and universities to give female students access to the same educational opportunities as men. For the most part, that goal was accomplished fairly quickly. The mission then shifted. The burden on schools today is to ensure no one else discriminates against their female students either. Educational institutions aren't just responsible for policing themselves now but also their faculty and student bodies.
In addition, the definition of “discrimination” has widened over the fifty years since the law was passed so that it now encompasses all forms of harassment, including sexual misconduct.
The most recent significant change to the law occurred in 2020 when the Trump administration enacted a set of guidelines for how investigations and adjudications should work. Known as the “Final Rule,” these guidelines dictate virtually every aspect of the campus judicial process, from how officials should respond to initial allegations to what kind of appeals process schools must maintain.
Getting a handle on your case means understanding what Title IX, and especially the Final Rule, has to say. With that in mind, we've put together a brief overview.
- Every school must have a Title IX Coordinator. The Coordinator enforces school policy regarding sexual discrimination and harassment. As part of this role, they make decisions about which cases to investigate.
- If you're being investigated, the Coordinator is required to provide you with written notice of the charges. This notice should include the name of the Complainant and details about the allegation. In addition, it should apprise you of your rights, including the right to be treated the same as the Complaint, the right to unbiased investigators and decision-makers, the right to review all evidence in the case, and the right to advanced notice of all official meetings and proceedings.
- The Coordinator isn't supposed to investigate you themselves. Title IX deems this a conflict of interest. Instead, they should appoint an Investigator to look into the matter. This person meets regularly with both sides in the case, interviews witnesses, and collects any physical evidence.
- At the conclusion of the investigation, the Investigator submits a complete summary of their findings. This is meant to be an unbiased document, and both sides have the right to question anything within it. Typically, you have ten days to review it and suggest any revisions.
- Once the Coordinator receives the final Investigative Report, they schedule a date and time for a live hearing. They also choose one or more Decision Makers to preside over this hearing. Again, Title IX mandates that neither the Coordinator nor the Investigator may serve as a Decision Maker.
- At the hearing itself, both sides have the opportunity to present their cases. You may offer arguments, introduce evidence, and call witnesses to testify on your behalf. In addition, you may cross-examine the Complainant and any other witnesses against you. However, only advisors may conduct such cross-examination. If you do not have an advisor, the school must provide you with one, though it is not required to supply you with an attorney.
- At the end of the hearing, Decision-Makers evaluate the evidence and render a judgment. In doing so, they use a legal standard known as “Preponderance of Evidence.” Similar to “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” but far less strict, this standard requires Decision-Makers find you Responsible if they believe it is “more likely than not” that you committed an offense.
- You have the right to appeal the hearing outcome. Typically, there's a time limit on doing so. In addition, your school will likely have restrictions on the grounds for appeal. Generally, you may only file an appeal if new evidence has been uncovered, you have a specific complaint as to a procedural mistake that was made, or you can demonstrate bias on the part of a Title IX official.
A working knowledge of Title IX procedures is fundamental to building your case. However, as even this overview suggests, these procedures can be complicated. In fact, the Final Rule actually runs to some 550 pages, and that doesn't count Department of Education memorandums that offer guidelines for implementing the guidelines. In short, you need a professional litigator, someone with a deep knowledge of the law, if you want to successfully navigate all the complexities of a Title IX defense.
How Can Joseph D. Lento Help?
Facing an allegation of sexual misconduct can be a nerve-rattling experience. The accusation itself is upsetting. The investigation and hearing processes can be challenging even under the best of circumstances. Add to all this the danger that the accusation might become public knowledge or that you'll have to deal with media scrutiny. Your colleagues may doubt you; your students may treat you differently. The entire experience is guaranteed to be stressful.
That doesn't mean you can't handle it. You can successfully defend your reputation. You don't want to try and handle the situation all on your own, though.
Joseph D. Lento is a fully-licensed, fully qualified defense attorney. He isn't the average defense attorney, though. He's what's known as a “Title IX attorney.” That means he's spent years studying Title IX. He knows its history, its politics, and its application. Just as important, Joseph D. Lento understands how schools operate. He knows what tactics they use, and he knows how to counter those tactics. Joseph D. Lento has helped hundreds of college employees get the justice they deserve, and he can help you do the same.
If you've been accused of Title IX sexual misconduct in North Dakota, don't wait. Contact the Lento Law Firm's office today at 888-555-3686 or use our automated online form.