Title IX: Retaliation

Your children are the most important thing in your life. You take seriously anything that might threaten their future. If one of them has been accused of a Title IX violation then, it may feel like your world has been turned upside down.

You have a lot of questions. Why would someone make an allegation like this? What will happen if my child is found responsible? What happens if this accusation winds up on the internet? Probably the biggest question, though, is, what do you do next?

There are right ways to deal with a Title IX allegation, and there are wrong ways. Mishandle this situation and you will likely make the situation worse, possibly much worse. Make the right choices, though, and you give your child a fighting chance to prove their innocence and reclaim their future.

What You Should Know About Title IX

Your very first job is to find out all you can about Title IX and how it works. If you want to win the game, you have to know the rules.

Title IX is a federal law passed in 1972 that prohibits sexual discrimination in any federally funded educational program. It has become the primary means by which high schools investigate and adjudicate accusations of sexual misconduct. In 2020, the Department of Education passed a set of guidelines that dictate most of what happens during the process.

  • All high school faculty and staff are responsible for reporting any knowledge of sexual misconduct. However, only a complainant or the district's Title IX Coordinator may sign an official complaint.
  • Once the Coordinator has opened an investigation, they must notify you of the charges. As part of this notification, they must identify the complainant and provide details of the allegation. In addition, the notification must apprise you of your rights, including your child's right to be presumed “not responsible” and your right to choose an advisor who may be an attorney.
  • The Coordinator appoints an Investigator to look into the accusation. This Investigator meets with both sides in the case. They also collect any physical evidence and speak with witnesses. You have the right to make this Investigator aware of any evidence and draw their attention to any witnesses. In addition, you have the right to submit questions for the complainant and any witnesses against your child.
  • At the conclusion of the investigation, the Investigator completes a full report on their findings. Both sides have the opportunity to view this document and suggest revisions before it is forwarded to the Title IX Coordinator.
  • Next, the Title IX Coordinator instigates the decision-making process in the case. This can take two forms. First, they may initiate an official hearing. At a hearing, both sides have the opportunity to present their case before one or more Decision-Makers decide the outcome. However, high schools are not required to provide a hearing. Instead, the Title IX Coordinator can appoint a single Decision-Maker to review the case and come to a decision. While there is no official hearing in such instances, both sides do have the right to be heard by the Decision-Maker.
  • The Decision-Maker ultimately decides the case using the “preponderance of evidence” standard. Less strict than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” this standard only requires the Decision-Maker to believe it is “more likely than not” that your child is responsible for a violation.
  • Both sides have the right to appeal the Decision-Maker's decision to an Appeals Official. However, there is typically a time limit on when such appeals can be filed. In addition, appeals can only be filed for very specific reasons, such as the discovery of new evidence or the demonstration of bias on the part of one or more officials.

Title IX does not mandate how schools may punish Title IX violations, and most schools don't tie specific misconduct violations to specific punishments. This means there are a wide range of possible sanctions, from verbal warnings to loss of privileges. However, the minimum sanction in Title IX cases is usually suspension. More likely, the school will try to expel your child if they find them responsible.

Just What is Retaliation?

You should know that retaliation against anyone for making a Title IX accusation or assisting someone else in making an accusation is itself a Title IX violation. What exactly constitutes "retaliation" though? To be sure, this can be a subjective term, and so an allegation of retaliation may be a matter of interpretation. However, the law mentions four specific behaviors to avoid.

  • Intimidation: This means any kind of behavior that might reasonably cause a person to fear physical injury or some other form of harm. It does not have to involve a direct threat. Instead, you can intimidate by making derogatory comments about someone or even through something as simple as your body postures.
  • Threats: Threats, of course, are a more direct form of intimidation. They can be either physical or verbal. Physical threats, of course, involve brandishing a weapon or taking a stance that suggests you might be about to hurt someone. You don't have to go this far, however, to be accused of making a threat. Nor do you have to threaten physical violence. If you promise to ruin someone's reputation, you are retaliating against them and could be charged with an additional Title IX violation.
  • Coercion: This refers to any action that pressures a person to withdraw their complaint or change their story. Blackmail would be an example, but so would offering a complainant money or favors. In addition, remember that coercion doesn't have to be aimed at the complainant. You can be accused of trying to coerce witnesses or school officials.
  • Discrimination: Finally, you may not deny complainants equal access to goods and services simply because they have made an allegation of sexual misconduct against your child.

It isn't always easy to recognize when you are engaging in retaliation. Most of us know we shouldn't threaten to do someone physical harm, but not all retaliation is so obvious. If you're a large person, and you stand over a smaller person and look at them angrily, this could be interpreted as intimidation. Be aware of how your behaviors appear to others.

Likewise, it's not always easy to stop yourself from taking action that might be seen as retaliation. Again, a sexual misconduct allegation can raise some powerful emotions. You can find yourself threatening another person before you even realize what you've done. This is one reason why it's so important to have an attorney, someone who can be by your side and stop you from making a bad situation worse.

Don't Make Things Worse

Beyond knowing what your family is facing, what can you do to help? There is a mantra doctors use, but it applies here as well: first, do no harm. Before you can help your child, you must make sure that you're not doing anything that could hurt their case.

  • Don't panic: There's no better way to ensure you make mistakes with your child's Title IX case than to panic. Panic leads to acts of desperation, and these are never helpful. A Title IX investigation is serious. The stakes are high, and the process can be difficult to navigate. Your family can survive this, though, and prevail. You set the tone. Your child will likely be far more scared than you are. Showing them you are confident can go a long way to helping them deal with this situation.
  • Don't retaliate against the complainant: It's normal to feel angry when someone you care about has been accused of serious misconduct. Your first impulse may be to retaliate against the accuser, to get back at them for what they're putting you through. Retaliation will only make your child look more guilty, though. You will create the impression that they have something to hide, something to be ashamed of. More importantly, the courts have found that retaliation itself constitutes a Title IX violation. That means doing anything to get back at a complainant will only compound the charges against your child and may leave you vulnerable to a lawsuit as well.

Here again, make sure you set the right example for your child. They will likely be more upset than you, more anxious to get back at the person they think has wronged them. Remind them of all the reasons this is a bad idea.

  • Don't retaliate against anyone else: It's not just the accuser who can make us angry. It's easy to get frustrated with the school and how they're handling the case. You may be unhappy with what a witness has to say. Retaliating against anyone will only make it more difficult to prove your child is innocent.
  • Don't contact the complainant: It can be tempting to believe that if you can just visit with the complainant or their family, you can straighten everything out. If only your child could explain their side of the incident, or apologize in the right way, this accusation would go away. Recognize that it's too late for that. Even if you are able to make peace with the complainant, the school will likely charge your child anyway. More probably, your effort to contact the complainant will only make your child look more guilty.
  • Don't tell others what's happening: Certainly, don't try to persuade public opinion to your side of the case. Going public with your defense can backfire, and it could be considered a form of retaliation against the complainant.

It can be helpful to tell one or two family friends, people you can trust to be supportive. Even here, however, you should limit who knows about the case, since if the information gets out, it can prejudice the community against you and make it more difficult to get a fair hearing.

  • Don't let your child face investigators alone: The school should never try to interview your child without a guardian present. Be vigilant, though, in case they try.
  • Don't admit responsibility: You may feel that having your child admit to wrongdoing is the “right thing to do” or that it will somehow help your child avoid harsh punishments. Sexual misconduct allegations, though, are never black and white. Even if your child bears some responsibility for what happened, the situation is likely more nuanced than the school will understand. Admitting responsibility gives the school and the community a chance to paint your child as a criminal.
  • Don't try to handle the situation on your own: It should be clear at this point that a Title IX case isn't something to take lightly. The rules are complex, and preparing the right defense requires skill and experience. Never try to handle a Title IX allegation alone. Take advantage of your right to an advisor and choose a qualified Title IX attorney to represent your family.

Make the Right Choices

Once you've avoided making mistakes, what can you do to improve your chances of successfully defending your child?

  • Know the process: Learn everything you can about how Title IX investigations work so that you are prepared every step of the way.
  • Know your rights: Know what your child is entitled to under Title IX guidelines, and make sure you hold the school accountable for ensuring their rights.
  • Gather your evidence: As soon as your child is accused, you should begin collecting evidence related to the allegation. Remember: don't throw evidence away just because you feel it may put your child in a bad light. Your attorney may know how to use that evidence to help your case.
  • Keep records of everything: Schools are prone to mistakes when it comes to Title IX investigations. For that reason, it's important to document every meeting and every communication. These records may be important later if you need to prove your child's rights were violated.
  • Take care of your family: More important than anything else, make sure you look after your family's physical and emotional health. It's easy to get caught up in the drama of a Title IX case and forget to take walks, eat healthily, or communicate with one another. Try to keep your family's routines as normal as possible. You may also want to consider seeking counseling, individually or as a family, to help deal with the emotions a case like this can bring up.

The Best Decision: Attorney Joseph D. Lento can Help

What's the most important step you can take to protect your child in this situation? Hiring a qualified Title IX attorney.

A Title IX defense is complicated. The rules can be difficult to navigate. Developing a winning defense strategy involves not just a deep knowledge of the law but an understanding of how the subtleties of your particular case can be organized to produce the best result. You can't handle all of that on your own. Luckily, you don't have to. Title IX gives you the right to choose an advisor to help you with your case. It also makes clear that this advisor can be an attorney. The law is designed to protect you. Take advantage of it.

You may think the best solution is to use a family or local attorney, someone who knows you. Only a Title IX attorney, though, truly understands how these cases work. Title IX attorneys understand the law and its many nuances, but they are also practiced at dealing with school districts.

Joseph D. Lento is a highly experienced, qualified Title IX attorney. He built his practice helping families just like yours from across the United States through all types of Title IX cases. He's defended hundreds of students from sexual misconduct charges, charges ranging from stalking to date rape. He knows the law, and he knows how high schools operate. He'll stand beside you every step of the way, keeping them honest and getting you justice.

Attorney Joseph D. Lento is empathetic to your situation. He's been doing this for many years, and one thing he's learned is that the Title IX system can be unfair. He's made it his life's mission to protect students from over-zealous school districts and draconian punishments. Whether you're trying to prove your child's innocence in the face of unfounded accusations or trying to negotiate a fair settlement that will let your child continue their education, attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team stand ready to fight for you.

If your child has been accused of Title IX sexual misconduct, don't wait. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-555-3686 or use our automated online form.

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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 the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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