Students aren't the only ones who get charged with sexual misconduct on college campuses. Faculty and staff have to endure accusations too. Maybe a colleague misunderstands you, or maybe a disgruntled student decides to try and take you down over a poor grade. Whatever the case, you're vulnerable, and your career is on the line.
Luckily, you don't have to face an investigation all by yourself. Title IX guarantees you the right to an advisor. Your first thought might be to choose a colleague or a union rep. The better choice, though, is an attorney, someone knowledgeable about the law and experienced in defending faculty clients.
A Brief History of Title IX
If you don't know about Title IX, you should. It's a key piece of federal legislation when it comes to higher education.
Title IX was passed in 1972 with the intention of eliminating sexual discrimination in US education programs, including colleges and universities. Over time, though, “discrimination” has come to mean far more than simple discrimination. It means any action based on a person's sex that could potentially interfere with their right to an education. That includes harassment in all its forms, from inappropriate written or verbal comments to things like stalking, dating violence, and rape.
If you work for a university, you can probably spot the problem with this evolution in the law. It means schools are asked to deal with some truly heinous accusations and make the weightiest of judgments about their faculty and students' futures. No matter how good a chemistry professor may be at teaching chemistry, they aren't usually equipped to decide matters of serious jurisprudence. As a result, schools don't always get it right when it comes to dispensing justice. In fact, in the last fifty years, colleges and universities have developed a reputation for denying respondents (the accused) their due process rights.
The good news is that in 2020, the Trump administration enacted new Title IX guidelines designed to protect the due process rights of the accused. The bad news is, this only further complicated the situation. Many schools took umbrage with the new guidelines, and the Biden administration has vowed to repeal them. It's hard to know, then, just what the Title IX landscape might look like over the next several years.
Title IX Procedures
At least for now, there is a clear set of rules in place for how schools can investigate and adjudicate accusations. The full text of the Final Rule runs to some 550 pages. These are the highlights.
- Your school must have a designated Title IX Coordinator. The Coordinator sets campus policy regarding sexual misconduct and evaluates every allegation. Anyone may accuse you, but under the law, only Complainants (alleged victims) and the Coordinator may sign an official complaint against you.
- Should the Coordinator open an investigation, Title IX requires them to provide you with written notice. That should include the name of the Complainant and details about the allegation. In addition, it should make plain your rights as a respondent under Title IX. Among these:
- You have the right to a presumption of “not responsible” (innocent)
- You have the right to an advisor, who may be an attorney
- You have the right to submit evidence and suggest witnesses
- You have the right to review all evidence against you
- You have the right to be treated the same as the Complainant in all matters
- The Coordinator appoints an Investigator. This Investigator typically starts by meeting separately with both sides in the case. In addition, they collect any physical evidence and interview any relevant witnesses.
- Your school should have a set time period for investigations. That could be anywhere from 30 to 120 days. At the conclusion of the investigation, the Investigator writes a summary of their findings for submission to the Coordinator. This summary becomes an important document at the hearing.
- Both sides have ten days read this document in draft form and suggest changes.
- After receiving the Investigative Report, the Coordinator sets a date and time for an official hearing. They also select one or more Decision-Makers to preside over the case and determine the final outcome.
- At the hearing, you may make arguments, submit evidence, and call witnesses to testify on your behalf. The Complainant does the same. You may also cross-examine each other and any witnesses against you.
- Schools differ on how much your advisor may be involved in hearing proceedings. However, the law dictates that only advisors may cross-examine witnesses.
- At the conclusion of the hearing, Decision-Makers use what's known as the “Preponderance of Evidence” standard to decide the case. According to this standard, they must find you responsible if they believe it is “more likely than not” that you committed a violation.
- Under Title IX, both sides can appeal the outcome of the hearing. However, there is usually a time limit on filing appeals, between three and ten days. In addition, your school will likely restrict the reasons for appeal to:
- The discovery of new evidence
- The demonstration of obvious mistakes in Title IX procedures
- The demonstration of clear bias on the part of a Title IX official
Non-Title IX Cases
Not all sexual misconduct cases are Title IX cases anymore. The reason for this goes back to the new Trump guidelines, known as the Final Rule. Many colleges and universities were unhappy with the Final Rule, complaining that it allowed some important kinds of misconduct to slip through the cracks. Off-campus incidents are no longer covered, for instance. In response, schools created new policies to handle these so-called “non-Title IX” cases.
Along with these new policies, some schools set up separate investigative procedures. Because these cases aren't subject to federal law, schools aren't required to provide respondents with any particular due process rights. For instance, your school might not presume you innocent. Many schools don't allow you to defend yourself at a hearing. Or a single administrative official might be in charge of all aspects of the case. Often, these cases can be more complex, then, than normal Title IX cases.
How Can Joseph D. Lento Help?
You probably have a sense by now of why you might need an attorney if you find yourself fighting a Title IX accusation. Defending yourself will require hard work and tenacity. It will require more than that, though. It will also require a knowledge of the law, an ability to navigate complex judicial procedures, and skill at coming up with effective legal strategies.
You can expect the Complainant to retain legal counsel. You should too.
Not just any attorney will do, though. You want a lawyer who knows Title IX and who understands the unique demands of campus justice systems.
Joseph D. Lento isn't the average attorney. He's what's known as a “Title IX attorney.” That means he's spent years studying Title IX; he keeps up with its changes; he monitors all the politics that affect it. Just as important, though, 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.
If you've been accused of Title IX sexual misconduct in Louisiana, don't wait. Contact the Lento Law Firm's Maryland office today at 888-555-3686 or use our automated online form.