Virginia colleges and universities take allegations of sexual assault and misconduct incredibly seriously. Title IX rules and regulations outline how schools must respond to allegations to ensure victims get the help they require. Sometimes, though, college employees find themselves at the center of false accusations. Navigating the complex Title IX system of hearings and investigations can be challenging under the best of circumstances. Thankfully, subjects of Title IX investigations have the right to an advisor. Experienced Title IX attorney Joseph Lento can protect your rights, your career, and your reputation.
Defining Title IX
All schools that accept federal funding must follow federal civil rights laws, including Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”), 20 U.S.C. §1681 et seq. These regulations prohibit discrimination “on the basis of sex.” All K through 12 public schools and publicly-funded colleges and universities in Virginia apply.
Under Title IX, no individual in the United States may – on the basis of sex – be excluded from participating in, denied benefits of, or be discriminated against under educational programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.
If a university in Virginia accepts federal funds, it must avoid sex discrimination in athletics, admissions, employment, and hiring. The U.S. Department of Education has created federal regulations that outline how schools should respond to Title IX allegations. Protections must also be offered to both the accused and potential victims during the investigation and hearing process. As you can see, Title IX actions can be incredibly complex. Facing such allegations without the help of an experienced Title IX attorney is not recommended.
Who Does Title IX Apply To?
While we think of Title IX regulations being created to protect students, the rules apply equally to university and college employees. Faculty, professors, coaches, administrators, trainers, and Resident Assistants are all protected by Title IX. Full and part-time employees are indeed protected from sex-based discrimination thanks to Title IX, but disciplinary actions may apply when misconduct occurs. Title IX prohibits employees from the following behaviors and actions:
- Sexual harassment, like the creation of a hostile work environment or quid pro quo favors
- Sexual assault, including non-consensual sexual contact, incest, statutory rape, and non-consensual sex
- Domestic violence
- Intimate partner violence
What to Expect From Title IX Proceedings
Under Title IX regulations, schools are required to investigate allegations of serious criminal behavior – even when no employee or student lodges an official complaint. Too often, this leads overzealous administrators to trigger unnecessary investigations. Since few academic institutions are equipped to handle complex criminal investigations and disciplinary hearings, due process rights of the accused are often mishandled.
- The Complaint Title IX actions usually begin with a complaint that is filed with the school's Title IX Coordinator. The Coordinator will review the complaint and determine whether further action is required. Depending on the details of the complaint, there may indeed be sufficient grounds for a formal Title IX action.
- Notification Upon receiving a complaint and initiating a Title IX action, the Coordinator will then notify you and any other respondents. The notification will include details about the complaint, the alleged violations, and the name of the person lodging the complaint. You'll be informed of your rights, possible sanctions, and notice that the action will proceed regardless of whether you participate in the investigation and hearing.
- The Investigation Next, the Title IX Coordinator will appoint an investigator to meet with you and the complainant. They will review any evidence and interview witnesses. Reach out to a Title IX attorney-advisor as soon as you receive notice that allegations have been levied. A Title IX attorney-advisor can make sure that the investigator looks at all evidence before issuing their findings.
- Investigator's Report Upon completion of the investigation phase, the investigator will write a report of their findings. Both the complainant and respondent will have a chance to review the report, respond, and offer changes before it is sent to the Title IX Coordinator.
- Decision-Making Phase After receiving the report, the Title IX Coordinator will begin the decision-making phase. Hearings are optional in K-12 schools, but college and university employees have the right to a hearing before a neutral decision-maker.
- Title IX Hearing Both the complainant and respondent have the right to be represented by attorney-advisors at their hearing. You'll have the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses, including the accuser, challenge evidence, and introduce your own witnesses and evidence.
- Hearing Determination Some hearings are proceeded over by a single decision-maker. Other times, a panel of arbiters oversees the proceedings. Either way, decision-makers must find that you are responsible “by a preponderance of evidence.” It is a lower standard than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” used in criminal courts. This means you're more likely than not to be found responsible for Title IX violations.
- Appeals After the hearing determination, you'll have ten business days to appeal the decision. Both parties can file an appeal under limited circumstances. A mistake in Title IX proceedings, new evidence, and obvious bias on the part of a hearing official can warrant an appeal. An attorney-advisor is crucial to the process of submitting a request for an appeal.
How an Experienced Attorney-Advisor Can Help
Make no mistake about it: Title IX allegations can be incredibly damaging to your reputation and career. Depending on the outcome of the investigation and hearing, you may be fired and struggle to find a new job based on your history. Student-employees may see themselves suspended or expelled. The Title IX disciplinary process can derail even the most successful of careers. That's why it's critical to have an experienced Title IX attorney on your side.
Joseph D. Lento is a Title IX attorney with experience helping college and university employees navigate Title IX allegations. He and his skilled colleagues at the Lento Law Firm can guide you through the complex proceedings and ensure the best possible outcome. Call the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 or contact them online to discuss your options.