Universities must protect their students and employees from being abused and from learning or working in a hostile environment. Behavior such as verbal bullying, verbal altercations, and offensive or intimidating language on the part of a university employee can create a threatening atmosphere for students and other employees.
If you've been accused of verbal abuse as a college employee, Attorney Joseph D. Lento can help, even if you've already been terminated or placed on leave. It is not too late to obtain legal guidance and save your job and reputation. Here is what you need to know about allegations of verbal abuse.
What is Verbal Abuse?
Verbal abuse covers a wide range of accusations in an academic setting. Here are some common examples of language that could be considered abusive:
- Using lewd or harassing language.
- Using offensive nicknames or name-calling.
- Engaging in aggressive or threatening arguments.
- Making outright threats of violence or harassment.
- Waging hateful insults.
- Using derogatory language referencing gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation.
- Defaming a person by starting or fueling vicious and untrue rumors.
There are instances where university students coming from a high school environment are not prepared for the harsher level of criticism they may receive from professors. Being singled out or receiving negative feedback in front of peers can feel abusive or humiliating in the moment, but it typically does not constitute abuse.
The same is true of offensive language used in passing. Universities are environments for adults, and it is reasonable to expect that students might hear profanity. Swearing or using language that is generally considered offensive might not be especially tasteful, but it isn't necessarily abusive. However, aggressive swearing at a particular individual may be regarded as abuse. These nuances in the definition of abusive language can lead to serious allegations that carry very real consequences over issues that may leave a lot of room for interpretation. In most cases of this nature, the question becomes whether or not a reasonable person would have found the language abusive.
Is Verbal Abuse a Title IX Offense?
Title IX protects university students and employees from gender-based verbal harassment that interferes with their opportunity to learn or work. Accusations of verbal assaults in any way related to a person's gender, perceived, assigned, preferred gender identity, or sexual orientation fall under Title IX protection. Unrelated instances of alleged verbal abuse would fall under the university or college's own policies.
Some college campuses have created rigid anti-bullying policies that include automatic consequences for verbal assault. While the aim of these policies is admirable, many miss the mark. This is due to the vague nature of the definition of bullying. The flexibility of these policies leaves room for the bending of the rules enough for potential misuse.
For instance, a "difficult" staff member or one who has blown the whistle on unfair practices within the university may find themselves accused of bullying and automatically suspended or terminated. Even if you have been subjected to these types of consequences, there may be legal recourse.
There can be a fine line between bullying and the expressive discourse that is encouraged in a higher education setting such as a university. Zero tolerance policies sometimes have the unintended effect of stifling this academic expression.
What are the Consequences of Alleged Verbal Abuse?
Verbal abuse can fall under a number of different accusations with varying consequences. If you face accusations of gender-based verbal harassment, you may be facing a Title IX violation. This can result in suspension without pay, mandatory counseling, fines, restricted duties, and more.
If the accusations against you are not related to a claim of gender or sex-based verbal abuse, the consequences will depend on the university's policies. This could include anything from a forced apology to probation to suspension or termination of your employment.
Which Defenses are Available?
While each case is unique, there are a few common defenses to verbal abuse allegations in university settings. If your accuser is exaggerating or fabricating their claims of abuse, that is a sufficient defense. Your language being taken out of context is a viable defense. Any aspect of your perspective that could create a reasonable doubt should be considered as a defense.
How Can an Attorney Help?
A university must balance the interests of its students and its employees carefully. When these delicate decisions are necessary, don't assume that the scales will tip in your favor. If you want to ensure that you'll be treated fairly, you need an experienced attorney who will represent you and only you throughout the disciplinary process. Hiring competent legal representation can make all the difference when it comes to preserving your job and reputation.
The Lento Law Firm Has Defended Employees at Universities and Colleges Nationwide
Attorney Joseph Lento and his team have made it their business to defend university employees accused of wrongdoing. If you're already in the middle of your university's adjudication procedure, it's not too late. You have the right to seek legal representation even if you've gone through the entire process and have been suspended, terminated, or received other sanctions.
When you decide to bring them on to your case, the professionals at the Lento Law Firm will immediately discover the facts, gather evidence, and start crafting your defense. They will inform you of the next steps you should take and any actions you should avoid. If you have grounds for filing a wrongful termination lawsuit, you will also be informed and guided through that process.
Contact Joseph D. Lento
Allegations of verbal abuse are serious accusations that could have a devastating effect on your career as well as your personal and professional reputation. Call 888-535-3686 to contact the Lento Law Firm today and share your story with an attorney who can help preserve your livelihood.