Being accused of sexual misconduct can derail your life, and from the moment the accusation is made, the subsequent events seem to happen quickly. It can feel like your life is spinning out of control. For schools, the pressure to respond swiftly and harshly can lead to situations where that cause irreparable harm to people who deserve to be treated fairly. If you find yourself accused of a Title IX offense, it's vital that you take the charges seriously and that you protect yourself.
Title IX allows you to select an advisor to help you navigate the investigation and hearing processes and help you find a path through this confusing time. That advisor can be—and should be—an attorney.
As soon as you know that you have been accused of a Title IX violation, you need to call a knowledgeable, experienced Title IX attorney. Only an attorney who is experienced in handling Title IX situations knows how to help you through this complex situation.
How Does Title IX Work?
Title IX is the primary means by which most high schools and universities deal with sexual misconduct allegations. This federal law was passed in 1972 in an effort to eliminate sexual discrimination in US educational programs. It states:
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation, be denied in the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
The law was meant to prohibit gender-based discrimination committed by or against students, staff, and faculty in federally funded educational institutions. Schools have generally followed the spirit of the law in many ways, and the law has had a positive, equitable impact on many educational policies, such as those found in schools' codes of conduct and with regard to women's participation in intercollegiate sports. The law has also increased the number of scholarships women are offered has led to students who are pregnant and new parents being treated more fairly.
However, the law is subject to frequent change, often at the whims of politicians. In 2020, the Trump administration completely overhauled the enforcement guidelines. Then, as soon as he took office in early 2021, President Biden promised to repeal most of those guidelines and has already included transgender students as a protected group under Title IX. Because the interpretation of the law changes so frequently, it's especially important that anyone accused of a Title IX offense have an advisor who is very familiar with the latest interpretation of the law. The most controversial application of the law is how it pertains to sexual misconduct allegations on college campuses.
How Title IX Is Applied Now
- An individual (“The Complainant”) makes an allegation to the school's designated Title IX Coordinator. Only the Coordinator can receive and sign a Title IX complaint.
- Once an accusation has been made, the Title IX Coordinator must notify the accused person (“the Respondent”) of the allegations, including the name of the complainant and the details of the allegation. This notice must also inform the Respondent of his or her rights, including the right to be presumed not responsible and the right to choose an Advisor.
- The Title IX Coordinator will then select an Investigator to investigate the matter. The Investigator will meet with people on both sides and hear their stories. The Investigator will also collect any physical evidence and interview any witnesses.
- When the investigation is over, the Investigator will write a full report, detailing all findings. The Complainant and the Respondent will have an opportunity to read the report and to suggest changes before the report is sent back to the Title IX Coordinator.
- Once the report is finalized, the matter moves from the investigative phase to the decision-making phase. At the college and university level, all Respondents are entitled to defend themselves at a live hearing. However, high schools and K-12 schools have the option to hold hearings, but they are not required to do so under Title IX. In secondary and primary school situations, the Coordinator can assign a Decision Maker to review the investigative report and render a verdict.
- During a Title IX hearing, both the Complainant and the Respondent are represented by their Advisors. They may introduce evidence and call witnesses. In addition, both sides have the right to cross-examine each other and to cross-examine any witnesses.
- The hearing may be decided by a single Decision Maker or by a panel of Decision Makers. Whether one person or a panel, Decision Makers base their decisions on the “preponderance of evidence” standard. This is a far less strict than the “beyond reasonable doubt” legal standard used in criminal courts. “Preponderance of evidence” requires only that Decision Makers be at least 50 percent convinced that the Respondent committed a Title IX offense in order to find the Respondent responsible.
- Once the Decision Maker has rendered a decision, both sides will have the opportunity to appeal the findings. There is a time limit on the appeal, though, usually ten days. And an appeal may only be made if one of the following conditions is met:
- New evidence is discovered
- A clear mistake was made in following Title IX procedures
- There was obvious bias on the part of one or more Title IX officials.
What's at Stake
If you're facing a Title IX allegation, you are likely wondering what consequences you could be facing. Though schools will often claim to use a variety of sanctions such as written warnings, restitution, and mandated counseling to punish a Title IX violation, they typically apply much stronger punishments. Suspension is typically the minimum penalty, and it is much more common for students who are found to be responsible for sexual misconduct to be expelled.
Though expulsion can be traumatic and embarrassing, it's important that someone who has been accused of a Title IX offense recognizes that they are likely to suffer secondary effects, as well. For example, if you are expelled from a Washington state college or university, you will likely be unable to enroll in any other state college or university. Your school may even make a notation in your transcript explaining the nature of your offense. This will make it very difficult for you to enroll in any other college or university, public or private, in any state. Your academic career could very well be over, derailing the course of your life and many of your dreams for your future.
But, even if you are not ultimately expelled, being found responsible for a Title IX violation could interfere with your ability to receive financial aid, and it could prevent you from being hired for an internship, being accepted to graduate school, or getting hired for your first post-college job.
How Can Attorney Joseph D. Lento Help Your Family?
It's hard to overstate the importance of adequately defending yourself against a Title IX allegation. Not only is the allegation embarrassing, but it could also change the very course of your life. Your reputation and your entire future are you will need to fight for yourself under rules that aren't just complicated but are also constantly changing.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento is here to help. Joseph D. Lento built his career on Title IX cases. He has defended hundreds of students in Washington and across the United States from sexual misconduct charges ranging from stalking to rape. He knows the law, he is up-to-the-minute on the current interpretations of it, and he knows the academic atmosphere. He spends every day talking to faculty and administrators, fighting for his clients' rights, and negotiating fair settlements. Whether you're trying to prove your innocence or looking to make a deal that will salvage your career, Joseph D. Lento will be on your side.
If you or your child has been accused of Title IX sexual misconduct in Washington, it's imperative that you act now. Don't wait. The Complainant has already made an allegation, and the school is already preparing a case. You should be too