What is a Title IX Charge in Massachusetts, and How Does it Differ from Criminal Charges?
Title IX was originally follow-up legislation to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It added sex as a protected class, and prohibited sex-based discrimination at all schools and universities that receive federal funds. This law changed how schools handle claims of sexual harassment and/or acts of sexual violence.
Title IX provides that sexual harassment and acts of sexual violence interfere with a student’s ability to receive an education, and therefore constitute sex-based discrimination. Therefore, schools that receive federal funds must take concrete action to prevent and address acts of sexual harassment and/or sexual violence. This includes responding to reports of sexual harassment and/or sexual violence with certain immediate steps. If schools do not comply with Title IX, they face potential fines and/or the denial of federal funds.
A Title IX proceeding occurs within a school’s own disciplinary system. A Title IX Charge is when a student is accused of committing an act of sexual harassment and/or assault against another student. This type of proceeding can easily result in a student’s suspension, expulsion or a mark on the student’s transcript that will follow them into their career.
When a Title IX proceeding occurs, there may or may not be a simultaneous criminal investigation. Each college or university has its own code of conduct, which provides the framework for how each school administers Title IX hearings. Though there are certain rules that they have to follow, it is generally up to individual schools to decide the burden of proof that apply at their Title IX hearings, as well as a timeline for investigation, a hearing structure, and rules for any appeals that could follow after the hearing.
The school also decides if mediation is allowed, whether they involve the local police department in investigating the allegation, and how they involve themselves with allegations of sexual harassment/assault that occur off-campus.
It is often said that criminal trials are easier than Title IX proceedings at a school or university, because due process is guaranteed in criminal proceedings. Title IX proceedings do guarantee some due process, but it is limited. Usually, the more serious the allegations are, the more due process you are afforded. However, the fact remains that students do not have the same due process rights in a Title IX proceeding as they do in a criminal trial. Generally speaking, all that students are really guaranteed in a Title IX proceeding is some notice and an opportunity for a hearing. Any other due process that they may be entitled to is strictly a matter of the student conduct code.
If the Alleged Sexual Misconduct was Said to Have Occurred in an Off-Campus Location, Will the College Still Investigate?
Generally, each college or university has its own policy about whether it investigates off-campus allegations of sexual misconduct. That policy varies from school to school and depends on the terms of the student conduct code and how the school administration applies that code.
Recently, new regulations were passed by the Department of Education on off-campus allegations. They established that schools should investigate off-campus allegations of sexual misconduct if they happen within an activity connected to the school or a location under the school’s control (like a frat house or any other location housing a student group officially recognized by the school).
In effect, what this means that schools could investigate an off-campus incident if they choose to, but are not required to do so.
Can my College Student Still Attend Classes While a Title IX Investigation is Going on?
Generally speaking, a student should be allowed to continue to make academic progress while a Title IX investigation is ongoing. However, if a student is the subject of a Title IX investigation, they may be ordered to stay away from campus and to either work remotely or online while the allegations are being sorted out. In very serious cases involving charges of sexual assault, a student could be suspended pending the outcome of the Title IX investigation. Any other interim measures vary from school to school, depending on the policies and procedures outlined in the student’s code of conduct.
This is one of the many reasons why students and their families should retain an attorney as soon as they receive notice of a Title IX complaint. An attorney can help you advocate to make sure that you receive all of the due process you’re entitled to and can help limit the disruption to your education.
Are Title IX Charges Kept Confidential?
Title IX proceedings are generally supposed to be confidential. This confidentiality is for the protection of the complainant as well as for the protection of the accused party. However, it’s been my experience that sexual harassment/assault accusations against a student will often become a matter of public knowledge on a campus, especially at smaller colleges or universities.
When information about a Title IX case gets out in the open, it can cause a number of different problems, including other allegations of alleged abuse made by past sexual partners that were never raised before. The snowball effect can sometimes make it untenable to continue at a school and may make it very difficult to get a fair hearing.
This is another reason why it is very important to contact an attorney as soon as you get wind of a Title IX proceeding. An attorney can help contain the potential damage that might be done to a student’s reputation and to their ability to continue at their school.