Going to college is a time in a young person's life that is supposed to be filled with learning, fun, making friends, and preparing for the future. No one goes to college expecting to be sexually assaulted or harassed.
If you believe you are have been sexually assaulted or harassed, you're probably dealing with a mix of emotions right now. You may be worried about what will happen to you next. You're likely angry, and you want to know what your options are.
One of the most potent tools available to victims of campus sexual harassment, sexual assault, and gender discrimination is Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Often referred to simply as "Title IX," this powerful piece of legislation IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities in schools that receive federal funding. This is the same law that demands equal funding for women's sports and equal access to educational opportunities for women and men.
If someone – a fellow student, a teacher, a member of your college's staff or faculty – has said or done something that violates your rights, you should consider filing a Title IX complaint. It may be the best way for you to start healing and to prevent the same thing from happening to someone else.
What is Title IX?
Though Title IX has been part of the American legal landscape since 1972, in 2011, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) wrote a letter to college and university administrators that has become known as the "Dear Colleague" letter. This letter informed administrators that schools were required to develop policies to address sexual harassment on campus. Among these, schools were instructed to designate a Title IX coordinator to train students and staff on what constituted sexual harassment and sexual violence and how the school would deal with it. The letter also said that schools needed to establish an investigation procedure and an adjudication process. The letter did not, however, provide specifics on how schools were supposed to investigate, collect evidence, or adjudicate allegations of campus sexual violence.
Because so much was left unsaid in the Dear Colleague letter, colleges and universities began to develop and implement their own procedures. As a result, policies and procedures now vary wildly. Ultimately, each school is responsible for determining what will happen to students who say they suffered harm as well as what will happen to students and others who are accused of doing wrong.
The Dear Colleague letter made it clear that sexual assault and harassment deprive students of equal and free access to education. This is a violation of their rights, and it's a violation of federal law.
However, though the harm caused by the student, teacher, or staff member who committed the offense is enough to merit filing a complaint with the school detailing the incident, it's not enough for a victim to file a lawsuit against the school. How the school responds to the claim will determine the school's liability. Federal courts have repeatedly held that a student's civil rights are not violated if the school investigated the allegation in good faith.
How Do I File a Report?
Deciding to step forward and make a complaint about sexual assault, sexual harassment, or sex discrimination can be scary. Many students worry that they will be harassed or discriminated against for making the complaint. Students also often fear that their claim will become public and that other students will find out. The good news is that, in most cases, there are rules and procedures in place to protect students who file Title IX reports.
The Office for Civil Rights states that schools are supposed to have staff members trained to handle Title IX complaints. Administrators, teachers, staff, and students are all supposed to be prepared by the institution to ensure that they understand what types of conduct constitute sexual harassment or violence, to be able to identify warning signals that may need attention, and to know how to respond.
According to the Office of Civil Rights, everyone involved in implementing the school's Title IX complaint process, including investigators and adjudicators, must be trained to handle complaints of sexual harassment and violence and must know and understand the school's grievance procedures. In sexual violence cases, the investigator and adjudicator should also have specialized training.
The process for making a Title IX varies from school to school and should be outlined by your institution. If you're not sure what your college or university's process is, the Lento Law Firm can help you figure that out. Each educational institution should have procedures in place, and they should have a Title IX coordinator who should receive notice of your complaint. You can also file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights, an office within the U.S. Department of Education.
What Goes in a Complaint?
Your complaint should explain to the university what happened to you, whatever that may be. For cases of sex discrimination, this will means detailing what happened to you and why you believe it was discrimination. If you have experienced harassment, it will mean describing the instances of harassment and giving examples of how you were harassed. Fortunately, you don't have to navigate this complicated process on your own. Your attorney can help you assemble the necessary paperwork and file your claim with the right people.
Though a complaint is a useful strategy for making the harassment stop, letting others know about discrimination, and protecting others from having the same experiences, a lawsuit can deliver additional measures of justice. A lawsuit will allow you to seek compensation and damages for the harms you suffered from harassment and discrimination.
Filing a lawsuit can be a more effective way to seek justice, as well. Sex discrimination can have an extremely negative impact on your education, and it can limit your options for future education and even career opportunities. You may be able to seek damages in court for the harm you have suffered.
Courts have repeatedly found that if a school knows or reasonably should have known about harassment or abuse, the school must take immediate action to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects
The Dear Colleague letter clearly sets the standard that the school's investigation must always be prompt, thorough, and impartial.
You have several options available, and it can be challenging to choose the best one. The process of filing a complaint or a lawsuit is complicated and tedious. The Lento Law Firm can explain your options to you and help you choose the best way forward.
What Happens After I File a Report?
After you file a complaint, the first thing that should happen is that the school should investigate and take action to fix the problem. The school should take immediate action to stop the harassment, end the discrimination, or take other steps to make the situation stop. Not doing this can cause the school to be responsible for any continued discrimination or harassment since the school now knows about the problem.
Whether you are a student, a teacher, or a staff member, your school will not be allowed to retaliate against you for filing a Title IX complaint. Title IX protects you from retaliation. If your school takes steps to shame or punish you for submitting a complaint, your school can be punished. The Lento Law Firm can help protect you from retaliation and can help you document any negative actions you do experience as a result of your complaint.
Will My Complaint Be Kept Private?
Most of the time, Title IX complaints are not widely publicized and are not made public by the college or university. Schools tend to want to keep matters quieter, out of respect for the individuals involved, and also to protect the school's reputation. Though some complaints can be a matter of public record, especially those that are against public schools and universities, usually the details and specifics are kept private. The rare Title IX cases that do end up in the news are generally because the victim chose to speak to a reporter about the claim. A claim that is filed in a court of law will be a matter of public record, and reporters may be able to see these cases and filings. Still, reporters often choose not to publish the name or identifying details of a victim of a sexual assault or harassment. All to say, though the details of your complaint could become public, it is not likely unless you choose to speak openly about them yourself.
Complaint Against a Person or Lawsuit Against the School?
There are two primary courses you can pursue after you have been sexually assaulted, sexually harassed, or sexually discriminated against on campus: filing a complaint against the person who harmed you or filing a lawsuit against the school. You may want to pursue both options.
Your first step will need to be filing a complaint against the person who harmed you. If your college or university has appropriate policies; has adequately distributed those policies; has appropriately trained its staff to investigate complaints of campus sexual assault or harassment and to follow the school's policies; and conducts a fair hearing; then you may not want to pursue any further action. The decision made by the school's disciplinary panel may be sufficient to remedy the situation.
However, if your school's Title IX policies were nonexistent; did not meet the professional standard of care; if staff members were not adequately informed of the school's policies or trained to implement them; or if the hearing was conducted contrary to the professional standard of care, then you might want to follow your complaint with a lawsuit against the school. At that point, you will have been harmed twice: once by the person who initially acted against you and a second time by the college or university that failed to follow federal civil rights laws on your behalf.
The Dear Colleague Letter of 2011ushered in a new era of civil rights for individuals on American campuses. The complaints and lawsuits that have come in the years since are two of the most robust tools to help victims of sexual harassment and sex discrimination in education. Students, teachers, and faculty members who did not have adequate protection and recourse on college campuses before 2011 can now demand that their rights be upheld and can hold schools accountable when they do not look out for the people on their campus. Filing a complaint or a lawsuit, or both, can get you the help you need to stay safe and the justice you deserve for the damage that was done to you and your educational career.
We're Here to Help You
The Lento Law Firm has many years of experience handling Title IX cases on college campuses and even in secondary school situations. We know all the policies universities are supposed to follow, and we know how to hold them accountable. We know how to protect the interests of our clients who have been harmed by individuals on campus and by institutions that do not follow federal rules.
If you or a loved one has face sexual violence, sexual harassment, or gender discrimination in an educational institution, call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm represent the victims of discrimination and harassment in Title IX complaint cases and lawsuits. We fight every day to get justice and compensation for victims like you. We can help you understand all of your options. We will talk to you about your case and advise you on the best way forward – the way that will help you get your life back on track, protect others from experiencing the same harm you experienced, and compensate you for the damage you've suffered.