Universities and Title IX: Critical Actions for Immediate Compliance

Title IX prohibits public schools receiving federal funds from discriminating based on sex. The law covers everything from school admissions to athletics. It requires schools to have procedures for responding to complaints of sex-based harassment. They must also have equal appeal processes for both parties. They must also provide adequate information to both parties, including the standard of proof and disciplinary actions.

Designate a Title IX Coordinator

Title IX requires universities to take immediate action and designate at least one employee to coordinate their efforts to comply with Title IX rules prohibiting sex discrimination. These employees are typically referred to as Title IX Coordinators. They are responsible for developing sexual violence and harassment prevention policies and procedures. They also monitor complaints, identifying trends and patterns. In addition, they often work with the Investigator on formal complaint cases. They may serve as the Decision-makers in student matters, or they may appoint an outside individual to do so. The Coordinator should be impartial and unbiased as they carry out their duties. If they serve as the Decision-Maker, they should not have other responsibilities that could create a conflict of interest. For example, they should be someone other than the athletic director.

Establish Procedures for Handling Complaints

Federal law prohibits sex-based discrimination in any aspect of education programs operated by recipients of federal financial assistance. That includes everything from college admissions to academic resources, coaching, locker rooms and housing for student-athletes. Confidentiality means that any reports made to on-campus professionals, including medical providers, mental health specialists, ordained clergy and rape crisis counselors, cannot be released to anyone without the express consent of the individual who provided the report. There are also confidential on-campus and community resources that can be accessed to address reports of misconduct. The University must investigate information of potential sexual harassment or violence that it becomes aware of, whether reported by individuals who experienced it or through other sources. Upon completing an investigation, the University must determine if a violation of its policies has occurred using a preponderance of the evidence standard.

Conduct Investigations

Upon receiving a formal complaint, a university investigates to determine whether anyone violated its policy. Investigations are fact-finding endeavors that should be thorough and timely. An institution must consider any policies, procedures or laws requiring special considerations and nuances and ensure that complainants and respondents have equal opportunities to participate in a fair hearing. Qualified and impartial individuals should conduct investigations. Colleges must disclose the sanction of the accused student to the survivor and provide supportive measures, such as class or dorm reassignment. Title IX regulations also prohibit schools from requiring survivors to sign non-disclosure agreements and need that students have access to advisors and the right to question witnesses during a live hearing.

Take Disciplinary Actions

All staff members are expected to adhere to University policies and standards of conduct. Staff employees are subject to corrective action when they do not meet those expectations. The type of corrective action taken will depend on each case’s facts, history and circumstances. The more serious the infraction is, the more formal the disciplinary action will be. Most of the time, punitive measures will be progressive and involve a multi-phase process that includes informal feedback and reprimands before proceeding to more formal corrective steps. However, for issues involving sexual harassment, sex violence, domestic or dating violence and stalking, the University may need to supplement or alter its disciplinary procedures to protect the rights of the parties involved in those proceedings.

Offer Support

Two Supreme Court decisions and federal guidelines emphasize that schools must act to eliminate sex discrimination, harassment and violence on campus. That includes taking steps to support survivors. A school cannot discourage survivors from continuing their education by telling them to “take time off” or forcing them to quit a class, team, club or extracurricular activity. Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding. It requires that schools publicly announce that they do not discriminate based on sex and have procedures in place to promptly and equitably resolve complaints of sex-based discrimination. The law ensures that investigations and hearings are prompt and impartial and gives both complainants and accused individuals the same rights and opportunities to be heard at a hearing. It also holds colleges responsible for off-campus sexual harassment at houses owned by or under the control of a school and limits the use of secret evidence at a hearing.

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