Title IX and College Sexual Misconduct Charges at Vanderbilt University

Nashville's 150-year-old private research institution Vanderbilt University offers the full range of university undergraduate and graduate degrees, including medical and law schools. Vanderbilt enrolls nearly 7,000 undergraduate students and nearly an equal number of graduate students at its urban, 333-acre campus. The university advertises an immersive undergraduate experience, in which its safe, secure, comfortable, accessible, and healthy learning communities, residential halls, and similar housing options play a significant part.

The full residential experience at any large college or university like Nashville's Vanderbilt University can lead to close and confusing personal interactions that implicate sexual-misconduct charges. Like other federally funded institutions, Vanderbilt University maintains a sexual-misconduct policy that satisfies federal Title IX requirements. Vanderbilt adopted the current version of its policy effective August 14, 2020, coincident with the effective date of new federal Title IX regulations.

Consider this important information about how expert representation by Joseph D. Lento of the Lento Law Firm can successfully defend you against false or exaggerated sexual-misconduct allegations at Vanderbilt University. College or university sexual-misconduct violations can derail your education, career, and reputation. Read the following outline, and then retain the skilled and experienced representation of Joseph D. Lento at the Lento Law Firm.

Title IX Misconduct

Colleges and universities like Vanderbilt University must adopt and enforce Title IX's prohibition against sex discrimination in order to preserve their substantial federal funding. An Obama Administration Dear Colleague Letter expanded Title IX's prohibited forms of sexual misconduct to include many sexual behaviors that occur too frequently at colleges and universities. The guidance also added protections for the accuser that some court decisions found so strict as to violate the accused's constitutional rights.

The U.S. Department of Education under the Trump Administration rescinded the Obama Administration's Dear Colleague Letter. The Department of Education later tightened Title IX sexual misconduct's definition and added protections for both accuser and accused. Read more here about those recent Title IX interpretive changes. The current interpretation limits Title IX's reach to only these three forms of sexual misconduct, each of which the Vanderbilt University'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.

Vanderbilt University Sexual Misconduct

Colleges and universities remain free to define sexual misconduct more broadly than Title IX defines it. Seizing that opportunity, Vanderbilt University defines sexual misconduct much more broadly than Title IX, adding significantly to the possible sexual-misconduct charges. Vanderbilt's sexual-misconduct policy includes each of these additional forms of non-Title IX sexual misconduct:

  • conduct that is unwanted or unwelcome and sexual in nature;
  • conduct that is demeaning to others and undermines the integrity of the learning environment by creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive academic environment through verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature;
  • inappropriate gender-based comments and gender stereotyping, even if the acts do not involve conduct of an overtly sexual nature;
  • non-consensual intentional touching of another person's intimate parts, or the intentional touching of the clothing covering the other person's intimate parts, for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification; and
  • sexual exploitation when a person takes non-consensual or abusive sexual advantage of another for their own advantage or benefit, or the benefit of anyone other than the one being exploited.

Further definitions within Vanderbilt University's sexual-misconduct policy broaden the above already-broad categories. For instance, prohibited sexual exploitation can include:

  • non-consensual video or audio-taping of sexual activity or other private activity, even if that activity occurs in a public or semi-public place;
  • non-consensual dissemination of video, photographs, or audio of sexual activity or other private activity, including dissemination by a third party or a person not involved in the original conduct;
  • exceeding the boundaries of consent such as, permitting others to hide in a closet and observe consensual sexual activity, or videotaping of a person using a bathroom or engaging in other private activities;
  • engaging in voyeurism, exposing one's breasts, buttocks, or genitals in a non-consensual circumstance or inducing another to expose their breasts, buttocks, or genitals without effective consent;
  • prostituting another person;
  • engaging in consensual sexual activity with another person while knowingly infected with human immunodeficiency virus or other sexually transmitted disease and without informing the other person of such disease; and
  • sexually-based stalking or bullying.

These broad and vague definitions can implicate so much behavior as to substantially increase the risk of false or unfair sexual-misconduct charges at Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt University Procedures

The procedures that a college or university uses to determine the truth of sexual-misconduct allegations are important to the reliability and fairness of the outcomes. Vanderbilt University's sexual-misconduct policy mandates two different procedures depending on whether the charge implicates Title IX sexual misconduct or only the university's own non-Title IX sexual-misconduct definitions. Title IX charges follow the university's Formal Grievance Protocol, while other charges fall under the policy’s procedures. Consider the following outline.

Title IX Procedures. A college or university receiving a complaint about Title IX forms of sexual misconduct must follow federal rules to determine whether misconduct occurred. Significantly, Trump Administration 2020 changes to 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.

Vanderbilt University's Formal Grievance Protocol preserves these federal Title IX rights. Either the complainant or the university'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 prepares a draft report after interviewing the accuser, accused, and any other witnesses. Both sides get to comment on the draft report, from which the investigator finalizes the report.

If the charge does not resolve in a permissive dismissal of charges, then the charge moves forward to hearing before a trained third-party adjudicator. 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 adjudicator may not consider the statement of any witness who does not testify at the hearing. The adjudicator prepares a final decision, one that the losing side may challenge with an appeal. The Formal Grievance Protocol follows the lower preponderance-of-the-evidence standard rather than the higher clear-and-convincing-evidence standard.

Vanderbilt University's Title IX procedures create substantial opportunities for skilled counsel 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 make a huge difference in the outcome of sexual-misconduct charges.

Non-Title IX Procedures. Vanderbilt University's sexual-misconduct policy, not its Formal Grievance Protocol, defines the procedures the school follows for non-Title IX sexual misconduct. The university's Title IX coordinator accepts complaints of non-Title IX sexual misconduct, making a preliminary review. If the matter warrants proceeding, then the coordinator or designee conducts recorded interviews of the accuser and accused. If those interviews confirm a potential violation, then the coordinator appoints an investigator to complete the investigation and prepare a report.

Under the university's non-Title IX procedures, as its sexual-misconduct policy defines, both sides get to review and comment on the investigator's draft report, after which the investigator finalizes the report, making findings and proposing sanctions. If either side objects to findings and sanctions, then the university retains a trained Sexual Misconduct Adjudicator who conducts a hearing. Either side may retain an advisor to accompany them to the hearing and to cross-examine witnesses. Advisors may be attorneys. The adjudicator issues written findings, which the losing side may appeal.

Vanderbilt University's non-Title IX procedures, like its Formal Grievance Protocol, thus 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, conduct cross-examination, and evaluate and appeal adverse findings.

Sanctions. Vanderbilt University's Formal Grievance Protocol for Title IX charges and sexual-misconduct policy for non-Title IX charges both list expulsion, suspension, probation, deferred probation, educational conference, and various activity restrictions as potential sanctions for sexual misconduct. Vanderbilt University, like other colleges and universities, treats sexual-misconduct allegations seriously, consistent with its federally mandated obligation.

Retain Skilled and Experienced Representation

The above discussion shows that the stakes of a sexual-misconduct charge at Vanderbilt University are high. Don't assume, though, that a charge means a violation. Skilled and experienced legal counsel can defend false or exaggerated charges. Vanderbilt University's procedures create substantial opportunities for skilled counsel to expose the weaknesses in misconduct cases. Expert legal counsel is your greatest resource to defend and defeat school sexual-misconduct allegations that can otherwise ruin an education, career, and reputation.

College and university students and employees nationwide retain Joseph D. Lento and 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 Vanderbilt University. They fight for a fair process and the best outcome. Call 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation, or use the online service.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact our offices today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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