If any place in America should be free of sexual discrimination and harassment, it's our colleges and universities. It isn't just that everyone should be entitled to an education. These are locations of higher learning. They should be among our most forward-thinking, progressive institutions. It isn't overstating the case to say that colleges and universities have a sacred duty to protect victims of sexual misconduct.
Likewise, these institutions have an obligation to protect the rights of those accused of sexual misconduct. Our forward-thinking, progressive society was built on the notion that everyone is innocent until proven guilty and that the accused are entitled to due process rights.
It isn't always easy to balance these two goals, victim protection, and defendant protection. When schools err, they tend to err on the side of victims.
If you should find yourself accused of sexual misconduct at Florida Atlantic University, you should know that you face an uphill battle. That doesn't mean you can't ultimately win the fight, but it will take time, patience, and a level head. Your first job: find out all you can about how FAU treats sexual misconduct cases so you'll know how to defend yourself.
A Brief History of Title IX
For a number of years, most schools have used Title IX to investigate and adjudicate allegations of sexual misconduct. Title IX, passed by the federal government in 1972, was designed to prevent sexual discrimination and harassment at all educational institutions. The government didn't make such discrimination illegal, but it did promise to withhold federal funding from any institution that failed to comply with the law.
Title IX did what it was intended to. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, college campuses could often be openly hostile places for women and minorities. Today they are bastions of women's and minority rights.
The law was not without its problems, however. For one thing, tying sexual misconduct prosecutions to federal funding gave schools a clear incentive to investigate every claim, no matter how unlikely, as vigorously as possible. In addition, the government didn't clearly define “harassment,” and over time, the term came to apply to a wide range of behaviors, from making inappropriate online comments to rape. Finally, in the name of protecting victims, the government systematically stripped away many due process rights for defendants, such as the right to cross-examine witnesses.
Title IX Reform
In response to this unbalanced situation, in early 2020, the Trump administration offered sweeping revisions to Title IX. Among the changes, the administration limited school jurisdictions, narrowed the definition of “harassment,” and restored some rights to the accused.
Several schools actually sued the government to prevent the new guidelines from taking effect. However, most grudgingly accepted that they had no choice but to follow the revised Title IX. After all, their federal funding remained tied to their willingness to do so. Still, they didn't go down entirely without a fight. FAU and a number of other schools created a second track for dealing with sexual misconduct. This second track gave them an option for dealing with violations that no longer met the stricter Title IX standards. The result: with two processes instead of one, the judicial system became even more complicated and difficult for defendants to navigate.
If you are accused of sexual misconduct at Florida Atlantic University, the school's first decision is how to charge you—under Title IX or under the Student Code of Conduct. The two processes begin the same, but they wind up in very different places.
- To begin with, the Office of Equity and Inclusion (OEI), led by the FAU's Title IX coordinator, appoints an investigator to look into your case. This investigator is empowered to collect any evidence, interview both parties, and take witness statements.
- At the end of the investigation, the investigator writes a complete report of their findings. If you are being investigated under the Student Code of Conduct, this is essentially the end of the process. The investigator forwards this document and any penalty recommendations to university administrators who ultimately impose the penalties. Students can appeal the investigator's decision to the Provost, but only under very specific conditions, including process irregularities, new evidence, or the demonstration of clear bias.
- If the investigation is conducted under Title IX, the investigator allows both sides to respond to the report. The report is then forwarded to a hearing officer, who puts together a panel to hear the case.
- At the hearing, both parties have an opportunity to present evidence, call witnesses, and cross-examine those witnesses. They are also allowed to question each other.
- At the end of the hearing, the panel delivers a finding as to guilt and a recommendation regarding any sanctions. This report is forwarded to the university administration.
- As in Code of Conduct cases, students have the right to appeal the panel's judgment, but only under the very limited conditions described above.
How Can Attorney Joseph D. Lento Help You?
Neither of the judicial procedures currently in place at Florida Atlantic University favors the accused. Even under the Title IX guidelines, the panel must only reach a majority, rather than a unanimous, decision to convict, and instead of the “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” standard applied in criminal courtrooms, they must only find that it is “more likely than not” that you committed the offense.
Meanwhile, penalties can be severe. If a respondent is found responsible, most sexual misconduct cases end with suspension or expulsion. Often expulsion includes a transcript notation about the nature of the offense. That can keep you from enrolling in another school. Your academic career could effectively be over.
Don't try to take on the school's justice system alone. Too much is at stake. Instead, the moment you've been charged, call attorney Joseph D. Lento. Joseph D. Lento is an expert in university justice. He's defended hundreds of clients from sexual misconduct charges, and he knows how to win. Joseph D. Lento understands Title IX. He also understands how schools operate. Most importantly, Joseph D. Lento knows how to make sure you get all the rights you deserve.
For more information, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.