If someone has made allegations of sexual misconduct against you at the University of Buffalo, you'll likely go through the full gamut of emotions. Your school takes allegations of this nature very seriously, and the sanctions they choose to impose can have serious ramifications on your reputation and your future. This makes it especially important to have the right attorney-advisor by your side so that you can navigate your school's disciplinary processes and defend yourself from unfair allegations. Given the high stakes and back and forth of policy changes, it is especially important that you fight your corner and make sure your school gives you your due process.
Why is Title IX Important?
Title IX is a federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools and education programs that receive federal money. Any school that receives federal funding must comply with this law and implement its rules according to the Department of Education's most recent guidance.
Title IX has not actually changed since it was passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972. However, the guidance on how to correctly implement it has been subject to significant and controversial change. To muddy the water further, individual schools also have their own policies which can prohibit offenses under their own grievance processes.
Today, in many schools across the country, students have to contend with an unforgiving campus culture, parents and donors that can be out for blood, and a confusing intersection of school policy and federal guidelines. This makes it all the more advisable that students familiarize themselves with their school policies and have an experienced attorney-advisor at their side.
What is the Students' Bill of Rights?
The University of Buffalo has a Students’ Bill of Rights, which affords certain rights to victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking. The bill assures support, assistance, and the opportunity for redress from the school.
What is the Campus Code of Conduct?
The University of Buffalo has a campus Code of Conduct that prohibits physical violence, sexual violence, sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, and stalking. The school disciplines violations of the Code of Conduct that fall outside of the Title IX Grievance Policy through Administrative Hearing Procedures.
What Counts as a Title IX Offense?
Title IX offenses are strictly defined according to federal guidance. The school has to respond to misconduct falling within this definition with a specific grievance process.
The University's Title IX Grievance Policy prohibits
- Title IX sexual harassment, which is defined as “unwelcome conduct that a reasonable person would determine is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the educational institution's education program or activity”
- University employee quid pro quo harassment
- Sexual assault
- Dating violence
- Domestic violence
To count as a Title IX offense, the alleged incident must have occurred:
- On or after August 14, 2020
- In the United States
- In the University's education program or activity
Title IX Violation or Code of Conduct Violation?
Not all sexual misconduct cases meet these requirements for the Title IX grievance process. Some allegations of dating violence, domestic violence, sexual violence, sexual exploitation, stalking, and sexual harassment fall outside the scope of the University's Title IX Grievance policy but within the scope of the Code of Conduct. For example, sexual misconduct is alleged to have occurred off-campus or overseas.
Should alleged misconduct falls outside the Title IX Grievance Policy, the school may investigate and adjudicate the allegations under the policies and procedures defined within the Code of Conduct.
However, the Title IX policy always has predominance over other school policies. If a student is believed to have violated Title IX amongst other policies, the school must use the Title IX grievance process.
What Does the Title IX Grievance Process Involve?
If someone has lodged a formal complaint, the Title IX coordinator will assess it and judge whether or not to launch Title IX procedures. If they do, it will proceed in the following order:
- Notice of allegations
- Inspection and review of evidence
- Investigative report summarizing relevant evidence
- Live hearing
- Determination Regarding Responsibility
The school may dismiss the charges before they reach a live hearing, but they can't issue any disciplinary sanctions or make a determination without holding a live hearing.
Students accused of Title IX offenses have the right to certain due process under Title IX federal guidelines. One important part of these provisions is having the opportunity for a live hearing with cross-examination of both sides. Each party's advisor cross-examines the other party and witnesses directly and in real-time during the hearing. They may ask any relevant questions and follow-up questions, including those challenging credibility.
Administrative Hearing Process for Title IX and Non-Title IX Sexual Misconduct
The school website explains that “certain violations may be addressed through an administrative hearing, including all Title IX, Violence Against Women's Act and sexual misconduct cases.”
There is, however, a difference between the administrative hearing for a Title IX offense and a non-Title IX offense.
One major difference is that it is only during Title IX hearings that each side's advisor may directly cross-examine the other. Instead, in typical school administrative hearings, you may submit suggested questions to the hearing officers in advance, but the school's hearing officers are responsible for all questioning.
However, in both Title IX and non-Title IX sexual misconduct cases, you have the right to be assisted by an advisor of your choosing. Your advisor, who may be an attorney, can help you prepare your defense and attend your hearing with you.
The standard of evidence is the same whether the school is determining whether you violated Title IX policy or the school's code of conduct. In either case, the hearing officers use the preponderance of evidence, which means it is more likely than not that you are responsible for a violation.
The school may put in place a no-contact order or even issue an emergency removal if they consider a student a risk. However, the school cannot put any formal disciplinary sanctions in place until they have made a determination of responsibility following a live hearing.
According to the school's Administrative Hearing Procedures and Sexual Violence Addendum, if the school determines that someone is responsible for sexual violence, they must immediately suspend them with additional requirements or expel them.
This zero-tolerance policy can have far-reaching consequences for students' futures.
Each party can fight the dismissal of a complaint or a determination of responsibility if they submit a written appeal within ten academic days of the finding.
The grounds for appeal include:
- Procedural irregularity
- New evidence that was not reasonably available at the time
- Conflict of interest or bias that affected the outcome
- Substantially disproportionate sanction given the severity of the violation
The school will appoint three administrators to conduct the review who have not previously served as investigator, Title IX Coordinator, or hearing decisionmaker in the case. They will review the evidence and appeal documents and provide a final determination in writing, with an explanation for their decision.
How Can Attorney Joseph D. Lento Help?
Attorney Joseph D. Lentohas defended hundreds of students all across the nation in Title IX and sexual misconduct cases. He will fight to defend your rights and protect your reputation and future prospects. Contact us to arrange a consultation. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.