Title IX and College Sexual Misconduct at the University of Notre Dame

The University of Notre Dame, located in South Bend, Indiana, is a Catholic academic community committed to pursuing and sharing truth for its own sake. The university enrolls about nine-thousand undergraduate students on a 1,265-acre campus. Notre Dame's mission statement states that it does not require a particular creedal affiliation but only respect for the university's objectives and willingness to enter into the conversation giving it life and character.

The University of Notre Dame advertises a campus life built around thirty-three on-campus residence halls, in which the university expects its students to develop healthy relationships, become servant leaders, and reflectively and prayerfully discern their futures. The university's noble ideals belie the fallen human condition that can lead to conflict within intimate relationships, even leading to sexual-misconduct charges.

Like other federally funded institutions, the University of Notre Dame maintains a Policy on Discriminatory Harassment, Sexual Harassment, and Other Sex-Based Misconduct that, together with its Procedure for Resolving Concerns of sex-based misconduct, satisfies federal Title IX requirements. Notre Dame adopted the current version of its policy effective August 13, 2020, coincident with the effective date of new federal Title IX regulations.

Consider this important information as to how expert representation by Joseph D. Lento of the Lento Law Firm can help you successfully defend against false or exaggerated sexual-misconduct allegations at the University of Notre Dame. School sexual-misconduct violations can halt your education and career and ruin your reputation. Read the following outline to understand why you should retain the skilled and experienced representation of Joseph D. Lento at the Lento Law Firm if you face sexual-misconduct allegations at the University of Notre Dame.

Title IX Misconduct

Colleges and universities that receive federal funds, like the University of Notre Dame, must adopt and enforce Title IX's prohibition against sex discrimination. An Obama Administration Dear Colleague Letter expanded Title IX's prohibited forms of sexual misconduct to include many sexual behaviors that occur with unfortunate frequency at colleges and universities, even at an institution like the University of Notre Dame that promotes high student ideals. The Obama Administration guidance also added protections for the accuser that some court decisions found so strict as to violate the accused's constitutional rights.

The Trump Administration's Department of Education rescinded the Obama Administration's Dear Colleague Letter while tightening Title IX's sexual-misconduct definition again and adding protections for the accuser and accused. Read more here about those recent Title IX interpretive changes. The current federal interpretation limits Title IX's reach to only these three forms of sexual misconduct, each of which Notre Dame's sexual-misconduct policy also prohibits:

  • sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, or stalking;
  • quid-pro-quo harassment (attempting to trade favors for sex); or
  • unwelcome conduct so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive as to deny equal access to education based on sex.

University of Notre Dame Sexual Misconduct

Colleges and universities may define sexual misconduct more broadly than Title IX defines it. The University of Notre Dame defines sexual misconduct more broadly than Title IX, adding markedly to the possibility of sexual-misconduct charges. Notre Dame's sexual-misconduct policy includes each of these additional forms of non-Title IX sexual misconduct:

  • any sexual touching with any part of the body or other object, however slight, by any person upon another, without consent;
  • unwelcome conduct that is either based on an individual's or group's sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity, or that is sexual in nature, and that interferes with performance, limits participation in University activities, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive University environment when viewed from the perspective of both the individual and a reasonable person in the same situation;
  • exposing one's own or another person's private parts without consent;
  • recording video or audio, photographing, disseminating, or transmitting intimate or sexual utterances, sounds or images without the consent of all parties involved;
  • allowing others to view sexual acts, whether in person, through electronic means, or via a video camera or other recording device, without the consent of all parties involved;
  • any form of voyeurism;
  • sex-based cyber-harassment; and
  • prostitution or the solicitation of a prostitute.

These broad and arguably vague definitions increase the risk of false or unfair sexual-misconduct charges at the University of Notre Dame. Notre Dame's policy includes a further definition of consent, requiring specific communications satisfying that definition. In a disputed sexual-misconduct case, these definitions can create significant questions of interpretation that the knowledge, skill, and experience of expert counsel Joseph D. Lento of the Lento Law Firm can address.

University of Notre Dame Procedures

College or university procedures can be just as important as definitions of sexual misconduct when determining the truth of disputed sexual-misconduct allegations. Procedures are important to the reliability and fairness of the outcomes. Consider the following outline of the University of Notre Dame's procedures.

Title IX Procedures. A college or university receiving a complaint about Title IX forms of sexual misconduct must follow federal Title IX regulations to determine whether misconduct occurred. Significantly, Trump Administration 2020 changes to those federal Title IX procedures guarantee the accused a hearing at which the accused has the right to attend and cross-examine the accuser and other witnesses to expose false allegations. Notre Dame's procedures preserve these and other federal Title IX rights.

Either the complainant or Notre Dame's Title IX coordinator may file a formal complaint. If a threshold review confirms a potential Title IX violation, the university notifies the accused of the charge, and the coordinator appoints an investigator. The investigator shares all evidence with the accuser and accused after interviewing the accuser, accused, and any other witnesses. Both sides get to comment on the evidence. The investigator then prepares a written report. The matter then moves forward to hearing before a three-member Hearing Board, the chair of which is a university employee and the other two members students.

Each side may retain an advisor to attend the hearing. The advisor, who may be an attorney, may cross-examine witnesses at the hearing. The Hearing Board may not consider the statement of any witness who does not testify at the hearing and is not available for cross-examination. The Hearing Board prepares a final decision, one that the losing side may challenge with an appeal. Notre Dame's sexual-misconduct procedures follow the lower preponderance-of-the-evidence standard rather than the higher clear-and-convincing-evidence standard, for the hearing panel's determination.

The University of Notre Dame's Title IX procedures create obvious opportunities for skilled counsel from the Lento Law Firm to assist in the defense of false or exaggerated charges. The organization and presentation of evidence, review and comment on proposed findings, cross-examination of adverse witnesses, and review and appeal of adverse findings are exactly where a skilled and experienced lawyer from the Lento Law Firm can change the outcome of sexual-misconduct charges.

Non-Title IX Procedures. Notre Dame's sexual-misconduct procedures provide a different, abbreviated process for non-Title IX sexual misconduct. The non-Title IX format is the same as above until the investigator completes a final report. The Title IX coordinator then presents the report to a two-member Equity Panel that meets to decide the charge and sanction. No hearing occurs. The Equity Panel instead may question the investigator who prepared the report. Parties may attend the Equity Panel's meeting with a support person but do not otherwise participate in the meeting. No witnesses attend the meeting.

While limiting any role by legal counsel, the University of Notre Dame's non-Title IX procedures still provide substantial opportunities for a skilled and experienced lawyer from the Lento Law Firm to defend false and exaggerated charges. Joseph D. Lento can evaluate and prepare corrective critiques of biased statements, statements without a factual foundation, and other evidence, help draft comments submitted to the investigator, help identify witnesses for the investigator's interview, and evaluate and appeal adverse findings.

Sanctions. Like other institutions, the University of Notre Dame takes sexual misconduct seriously. Notre Dame's procedures list these potential sanctions for a finding of sexual misconduct: counseling or education; verbal or written reprimand; written warning; participation in a university program or activity; restorative justice conference; alcohol assessment or education; substance abuse treatment; psychological assessment; ban from campus or location on campus; loss of extra-curricular privileges; loss of privileges within a residential community; loss of campus housing; no-contact order; disciplinary probation; dismissal with opportunity for readmission; or permanent dismissal.

Retain Skilled and Experienced Representation

The stakes of a sexual-misconduct charge at the University of Notre Dame are just as high as at other colleges and universities. With such high stakes, do not give up your legal rights. Skilled and experienced legal counsel Joseph D. Lento can defend false or exaggerated charges under the above procedures. Notre Dame's procedures create substantial opportunities for Mr. Lento to expose the weaknesses in misconduct cases and to help you advocate for the best result.

Expert legal counsel is your greatest resource to defend and defeat school sexual-misconduct allegations that can otherwise ruin your education, career, and reputation. College and university students and employees nationwide retain Joseph D. Lento at the Lento Law Firm to represent them in disciplinary matters. Joseph Lento and the Lento Law Firm have the knowledge, resources, and expertise to help you through a disciplinary proceeding at the University of Notre Dame for the best outcome. Call 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation, or use the online service.