Q: What is Title IX?
A: Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs and activities. All public and private elementary and high schools, school districts, colleges and universities that receive any federal financial assistance must fully comply with Title IX. While most people think of Title IX as prohibiting sexual harassment and sexual violence, including dating violence, rape, and sexual assault, it also applies to school admissions, financial assistance, athletics, and the treatment of pregnant students.
Q: Does Title IX apply to all students?
A: Title IX protects all students at federally funded institutions from sexual discrimination and sexual violence. This includes elementary students through graduate students; male and female students; full-time and part-time students; and students with and without disabilities. Almost all private schools, including colleges and universities, must comply with Title IX because they receive federal funding through federal financial aid programs used by their students.
Q: Who enforces Title IX?
A: The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforces Title IX’s requirements. Under Title IX, a federally funded institution must ensure that no student is denied or limited in his or her ability to participate in or benefit from a school’s educational programs or activities on the basis of sex. A school fails to protect a student’s rights when the school is notified about an incident of sexual violence and/or a hostile environment, but fails to remedy its effects and prevent its recurrence. A Title IX coordinator within an institution works to ensure Title IX compliance and enforcement, and oversees an institution’s grievance procedures for Title IX complaints. These procedures generally include investigations and hearings to determine whether sexual harassment or violence occurred. A “preponderance of the evidence” standard (meaning it is more likely than not that sexual harassment or violence occurred) governs Title IX proceedings.
Q: If I am a victim of sexual discrimination or violence at school, what steps would I take to report it?
A: Every institution has its own grievance procedures, which may vary depending on the nature of your allegation and the number of other students who may also be involved. Generally, as a first step, you would file a written complaint with a Title IX coordinator who will then interview you and the alleged perpetrator. Following these meetings, an institution may opt to use the services of an independent Title IX investigator, who is expected to conduct an adequate, reliable, impartial and prompt investigation. You and all other parties to a Title IX complaint will be allowed to present witnesses and evidence. As part of the investigation, your student file and any relevant police investigative reports may also be reviewed.
While an investigation is pending, an institution must protect you. For example, your school may prohibit contact between you and the alleged perpetrator and may offer no-cost counseling and other mental health services, in addition to academic support services such as tutoring.
When the investigation is concluded, a hearing may take place to determine whether the alleged conduct occurred, although Title IX does not necessarily require it. Ultimately, you and any other party(ies) must be notified in writing about the outcome of your complaint.
Q: Can my lawyer represent me in a Title IX investigation?
A: Yes. However, Title IX requires that, if an institution permits you to have legal counsel or an advisor, all other parties must have the option to choose the same type of representation. Counsel for an accused student may be critical, especially in cases involving potentially criminal conduct.
Q: Can there be a parallel criminal investigation to a Title IX complaint?
A: Yes. The Office of Civil Rights has advised institutions not to wait for a criminal investigation and/or prosecution to conclude. Rather, institutions are advised to work with campus police and local law enforcement offices during investigations. Schools may share information with law enforcement investigators, as long as they comply with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and other privacy laws.
Q: Can an institution handle complaints of alleged sexual violence that did not take place on school grounds or at a school-sponsored event?
A: Yes. Title IX requires an institution to process all sexual violence complaints. Even if the alleged conduct occurred off campus or at an event unrelated to school activities, an institution must still evaluate whether the impact of the alleged conduct creates a hostile environment on campus or at an off-campus educational program or activity.
Q: Can an attorney help me navigate the Title IX process?
A: Yes. Attorneys can be an integral part of navigating the Title IX process and any parallel criminal investigation. Counsel can help you prepare a witness statement, communicate with university and government officials and negotiate a resolution.
This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). It was prepared by Kristina W. Supler and Susan C. Stone, attorneys at McCarthy, Lebit, Crystal & Liffman Co., LPA.