What Is Title IX?
Title IX is a federal civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or an educational program that receives funding from the federal government. “Sex-based discrimination” means treating someone unfavorably because of something related to their sex, including their sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy.
Being found responsible for a Title IX violation can leave a long-lasting stain on your employment record. Any college employee who believes they may be facing an allegation of a Title IX violation should not delay or wait to see what happens, but seek out an experienced Title IX law firm such as Lento Law right away.
Who Does Title IX Apply To?
Title IX applies to anyone who attends or works for a school that receives federal funding, including those employed by university-affiliated organizations such as fraternities and on-campus religious groups.
Sexual Harassment and Title IX
Sexual harassment is one type of sex-based discrimination. Sexual harassment in an educational setting is defined as unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature. This includes anything that unreasonably interferes with a fellow employee's work performance or that limits a student's ability to participate in educational activities if the reasons are based on their gender.
Sexual harassment goes beyond verbal or physical requests for sex and can include jokes about sex or sexually suggestive comments, which the law calls a hostile work environment. Whether any specific conduct creates a hostile work environment can vary depending on the circumstances and who is present. Behavior that is considered acceptable in one setting may not be acceptable in a different setting. Misunderstanding what is appropriate can lead to an allegation of a Title IX violation, which can result in being demoted, placed on administrative leave, or perhaps even losing your job. This is where the Lento Law Offices can help. An experienced Title IX defense attorney like Joseph D. Lento can help you navigate the complex Title IX process.
The Title IX Process
The Title IX grievance process begins when someone submits a formal complaint to the Title IX Coordinator's office. All colleges and universities receiving federal funding are required to designate a Title IX Coordinator and to publicize the Coordinator's function and contact information to everyone connected with the school.
After reviewing the charges, the Coordinator must notify the accused person (known as the “Respondent”) as soon as possible. Even this early in the process, Lento Law can help. A Lento Law advocate can:
- Explain how Title IX applies to your situation
- Review the facts and discuss your options with you
- Negotiate on your behalf with the Title IX coordinator
- Make sure your rights are enforced, including the presumption that no wrongdoing was committed
Lento Law can also inquire as to whether an informal resolution process is available, cutting short the lengthy investigation and hearing process.
If the matter cannot be informally resolved, the Title IX Coordinator, or someone in their office, will investigate the charges and the surrounding circumstances. The Investigator will want to see all evidence that is relevant to the allegations. They will ask both parties for the names of witnesses and for copies of any documents, text messages, emails, and photos that may be relevant to the accusation. The Respondent will want to cooperate so as to make sure the Investigator receives any and all evidence that contradicts the allegations or some portion of them.
The Investigator will next interview both parties and any witnesses. The Respondent is allowed to have a legal advisor sit in on the interview.
The Investigator's Report
After inspecting all relevant evidence and interviewing parties and witnesses, the Inspector will write a report summarizing the evidence and laying out preliminary conclusions. Copies of the report are sent to both parties. Each has an opportunity to respond in writing, and the other party has the right to see their response. Each party may send the Investigator a list of areas of disagreement.
If either party is dissatisfied with the report or with the Investigator's preliminary conclusions, and if the matter cannot be resolved informally, each party has the right to request a live hearing. The hearing will be conducted by one or more neutral staff or faculty members. Each party is allowed to have an advisor present at the hearing, and that advisor may be a lawyer. The advisor is allowed to cross-examine witnesses and advise their client during the course of the hearing but is not allowed to participate otherwise.
After the hearing concludes, the hearing officer has a week in which to deliver a written report informing the parties and key school officials of their findings and the recommended sanctions, if any. In a Title IX hearing, the standard of proof for declaring the Respondent responsible for violations is the “preponderance of the evidence” standard, meaning that it is more likely than not that the Respondent was responsible for the Title IX violation. This standard is lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal courtrooms and makes it easier to rule against the Respondent.
The written report must provide explicit instructions for how either party may appeal the determination.
If the matter cannot be otherwise successfully resolved, the Lento Law Firm can guide a Respondent through the appeals process, making sure that the written appeal is complete and is filed prior to the mandatory deadline. There are a limited number of reasons on which to base an appeal. They include a significant procedural irregularity, discovery of a conflict of interest on the part of someone involved in the investigation or hearing, or the discovery of new evidence that was previously unavailable and which could have affected the outcome of the matter.
An Experienced Title IX Attorney Can Help You
Joseph D. Lento and his team have helped countless college and university employees through the complex Title IX disciplinary process. Call the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 or contact them online to discuss your options.