More than 120 Colleges and Universities are Under Investigation for Possible Violations of Title IX.
Title IX Applies to Almost Every College and University in the U.S.
Title IX is a law of equity that prohibits sex and gender discrimination at educational institutions that receive federal funding. The overwhelming majority of schools receive some federal funding, primarily through federal student loan programs and so the majority of schools are required to comply with Title IX and its guidance from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”).
The Office of Civil Rights Enforces Title IX
The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights investigates complaints that colleges have mishandled reports of discrimination. Behaviors that fall under the category of sex-based discrimination can include reports of verbal or physical sexual harassment, gender-identity or sexual orientation discrimination and bullying, relationship and intimate partner violence, stalking, and sexual assault. Any student, staff, or faculty member who believes that a college or university has actively engaged in discriminatory activities or has failed to properly prevent or remedy them can file a complaint with the OCR.
The Number of Title IX Investigations Is On the Rise.
The number of complaints and investigations is certainly on the rise. In June 2014, it was announced that 64 colleges were under investigation after complaints were filed alleging possible violations of Title IX responsibilities.
According to July 2015 data, the Education Department has confirmed it “was conducting 140 investigations at 124 higher education institutions for possible violations of Title IX in their handling of sexual assault.” As indicated by the charts, the Education Department can sometimes be investigating more than one concern at the same school. The University of Denver, for example, has two pending cases, one begun in 2013 and one this past March.
An OCR Investigation is a Comprehensive Process.
An OCR investigation is not a determination that the school has in fact fallen short of compliance standards. An investigation only indicates that a complaint, with adequate information about a possible violation, was timely filed and determined to be appropriate for investigation.
In each investigation, the OCR acts as a neutral fact-finder, gathering information from the complainant and the school to determine whether the school has failed to comply with Title IX. Often, that may require the OCR to examine the school’s policies and procedures overall and look at how similar cases were resolved. For example, if a group of students complain that the school does not address reports of sexual violence in a timely or fair way, the OCR might need to look not only at the students’ cases, but at several years’ worth of cases to compare. Similarly, if a student respondent was found responsible for sexual harassment and believes the sanction was unfair and harsher than other students’ sanctions for similar offenses, the OCR might also need to look into an array of cases to see how much merit the student’s complaint holds.
The comprehensive, fact-intensive process may account for why some investigations begun as early as 2012 remain open however, and why the Education Department has stated it is seeking funding to hire additional staff to assist in the investigations.
Schools in Arizona and Colorado Are Under Review.
In Arizona, Arizona State University is under investigation and has been since January 2012.
In Colorado, cases are under investigation at Regis University, the University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of Colorado at Denver, Colorado State University and the University of Denver.
No outcomes for the Arizona and Colorado investigations have yet been announced. It could be determined the schools were in compliance with Title IX standards. It may also be the case that a school could be found non-compliant and could face penalties up to the loss of federal funding. In many cases, however, the school and the OCR enter into a resolution agreement where the school, often without admitting fault, agrees to make substantive changes to its policies and procedures to improve how it handles discrimination reports.
There are Many Options to Address Concerns a School Violated Title IX.
In our experience, one of the main reasons individuals file complaints with the OCR is to see a change happen at their institution so that what happened to them does not happen to anyone else in the future. Many of these individuals choose not to sue because monetary compensation for them does not necessary signal institutional change.
If an individual believes that a college or university has mishandled a case of sexual harassment, sexual assault, discrimination, relationship violence, or stalking, there are a number of options available to meet a diverse range of needs. Some options can be undertaken simultaneously. For example, individuals can choose to participate in the university’s grievance process while having an attorney advise them. Lawsuits and complaints to the OCR might be based on the same set of facts and can also happen at the same time. A consultation with an attorney knowledgeable about Title IX requirements can help concerned individuals decide what steps to take to achieve the right outcome for them.
By Alexandra Tracy-Ramirez, HopkinsWay PLLC. | © HopkinsWay PLLC 2015. All rights reserved