Title IX Frequently Asked Questions

Title IX provides important protections to students and others involved in the educational system. It can also have devastating effects on students accused of sexual misconduct. The skilled Washington Title IX attorneys at Blair & Kim, PLLC, understand the significance of a Title IX complaint.

What Is Title IX?

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal law that protects individuals from sex-based discrimination in education programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance. Title IX applies to public schools, colleges, and universities, but also applies to most private colleges and universities because they participate in federal student aid programs. 

Title IX protects students from sex-based discrimination by the school in matters such as athletic opportunities, access to educational resources, and disciplinary action. It prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It also requires schools to respond promptly to actual knowledge of sexual harassment. Title IX prohibits schools from being “deliberately indifferent” to sexual harassment in its programs and activities.

What Constitutes Sexual Harassment Under Title IX?

The definition of sexual harassment under 34 CFR § 106.30 includes three broad categories of unwelcome conduct based on sex: quid pro quo harassment by an employee of the school; unwelcome conduct that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive as to deny a person equal access to the education program or activity; and sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, or stalking. Harassment can come from students, faculty or staff, and others.

What Happens When a Title IX Complaint Is Filed?

When a school has actual knowledge of sexual harassment in its programs or activities in the U.S., it must promptly respond. The school’s Title IX Coordinator must promptly inform the alleged victim of supportive measures and how to file a formal complaint, if one has not been filed.

The school must investigate sexual harassment allegations in a formal complaint. A formal complaint is a document alleging sexual harassment has occurred and requesting the school investigate. The school should generally respect the wishes of the complainant but in some cases a Title IX Coordinator may file the formal complaint even if the complainant does not want to participate in the Title IX process.

The school must send written notice of the allegations to both the complainant and the respondent when it receives a formal complaint. The school must investigate the allegations and has the burden of gathering evidence. This investigation may include interviews with the parties. Both parties must have an equal opportunity to choose an advisor and submit and review evidence.

Post-secondary institutions must have a live hearing and allow the parties’ advisors to cross-examine witnesses.

After the hearing, the school must send both parties the written determination.

What Are the Potential Consequences of a Title IX Complaint Filed Against Me?

The potential consequences of a Title IX complaint can be extremely serious.

Schools may remove a student accused of sexual harassment from its education program or activity on an emergency basis, if it determines there is an immediate threat to another person’s health or safety. This could mean being removed from student housing or specific classes or academic programs or being suspended from athletic programs or other student activities. It may be difficult to get back into to a program after emergency removal.

Students found responsible for Title IX sexual harassment often face suspension or expulsion. Even lesser disciplinary actions could result in suspension from athletics or other programs or loss of scholarships or financial aid. Such disciplinary actions do not just delay a student’s ability to pursue an education—they may limit or prevent a student from completing their education or pursuing their intended career.

What Are My Rights?

Under the 2020 regulations, respondents must be given notice of the allegations and an equal opportunity to present witnesses and evidence. The school cannot prohibit a party from discussing the allegations or collecting evidence. Both parties have the right to choose an advisor, who may be an attorney. Both parties have a right to the evidence and a copy of the investigative report. Post-secondary institutions must hold a live hearing and allow the parties’ advisors to cross examine witnesses. A written determination must be sent to all parties simultaneously. Both parties have the right to appeal based on certain issues.

Why Shouldn’t I Rely on my School to Ensure my Rights Are Protected?

Schools have faced significant pressure to prevent and address sexual harassment. They have been subjected to regulatory investigations and lawsuits by alleged victims for failure to properly handle complaints. In an effort to remedy these issues, some schools may fail to protect the rights of students who have been accused.

Additionally, the requirements around Title IX have been changing. Regulations issued in 2020 made significant changes to Title IX processes that were in conflict with previous guidance. Courts have also recognized that accused students have certain rights. Some schools and Title IX Coordinators may be unaware or confused about their responsibilities and their students’ rights.

What if my School Violated my Rights During a Title IX Investigation or Disciplinary Proceeding?

You should seek the advice of an experienced Washington Title IX attorney right away. You may have the right to appeal the decision. You may also have your own Title IX case or state law claims against the school. In some circumstances you may be able to seek an injunction to prevent the school from moving forward with disciplinary action against you pending your case. An attorney will be able to advise you of your options based on the specific circumstances in your case.

How Is a Title IX Complaint Different From a Criminal Case?

A Title IX complaint is handled by the school. The school’s Title IX Coordinator is responsible for the investigation. The standard of evidence in a Title IX investigation and hearing is preponderance of the evidence or clear and convincing evidence. A Title IX complaint may result in school discipline, such as suspension or expulsion.

In some cases, conduct that is the subject of a Title IX complaint may lead to criminal charges. Criminal changes are investigated by the police and determined in a court of law. The standard of proof in a criminal case is beyond a reasonable doubt. Criminal defendants have certain constitutional rights not afforded in Title IX investigations, such as the right to remain silent.

How Can an Experienced Seattle Title IX Defense Attorney Help?

If you obtain a skilled Title IX defense attorney as soon as you receive notice of the complaint, your attorney can help ensure your rights are protected throughout the investigation and hearing process. If the school does attempt emergency removal or disciplinary action, an attorney can assist with your appeal and, if necessary and appropriate, pursue further legal action. Additionally, an attorney can advise you regarding the potential for criminal charges and help you avoid any actions that could be detrimental in a criminal case. Blair & Kim, PLLC, handles both Title IX and criminal defense. Our knowledgeable attorneys can see you through the Title IX process and any related criminal proceedings. Schedule a consultation by contacting us online or calling (206) 622-6562.

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