Can a Title IX Accusation Follow Me to Another College?

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Allegations of rape and sexual assault are serious in any situation, but when the accused is a student, there’s even more at stake. A Title IX finding against a college student can result in suspension or expulsion from his or her university or from a degree program. Other sanctions include a permanent mark on transcripts that follow that individual to other educational institutions and can also be seen by potential employers who request a copy of an applicant’s academic records as a condition of employment. Title IX investigations can change the course of a person’s life, making it difficult to finish their education and to meet career goals.

Individuals facing a Title IX investigation may be concerned about whether details and information regarding the allegations against them, including the names of the parties involved, will be released to the public or otherwise become part of the public record. Under certain circumstances, the answer is yes.

That’s why it’s important to seek legal counsel with Omaha’s criminal defense team at Berry Law as soon as you receive notice that you’re being targeted as the subject of a Title IX investigation. Securing representation before speaking with school officials or investigators can help to ensure the best possible outcome for your situation.

What Role Does Title Ix Play at Colleges and Universities?

Title IX was an addition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It included gender as a protected class and prohibited discrimination at educational institutions that receive federal funding. Although sex crimes are not specifically named in Title IX, the courts have applied a broad definition of discrimination to include protections for students against sexual harassment and violence. Title IX makes these acts a form of illegal sex discrimination when they interfere with a student’s right to receive an education.

Title IX mandates that schools are required under the law to respond to reports of sexual misconduct and to take the necessary steps to end it. Any public educational institution that fails to do so can face fines and risk losing state and federal funding.

When Is Information in a Title Ix Investigation Confidential?

The requirements of Title IX can sometimes result in false allegations that cause serious harm to the accused’s reputation before he or she is even determined guilty. While the Department of Education has said that a school or university cannot disclose the identity of the parties in a Title IX investigation to anyone who isn’t directly involved in the school’s disciplinary process, there are exceptions.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which protects privileged educational records including grades and academic testing results, makes an exception when it comes to the final results of disciplinary proceedings against students accused of committing sex crimes and crimes of violence. That information is a matter of public record, so an open records request allows a university to reveal the name of the respondent, the violation he or she was accused of committing, and the nature of the sanctions imposed by the educational institution.

The identities of the complainant and the respondent must also be revealed when criminal proceedings are underway, and the disclosure of that information is required under the law. Disclosure of information is necessary when sharing the identities of the parties involved is essential to carrying out the functions of Title IX. Names and identifying information of participants are never to be revealed for retaliation purposes.

Although colleges and universities require that the involved parties themselves maintain confidentiality regarding the Title IX proceedings or risk facing Code of Conduct violations, Title IX doesn’t mandate that investigations remain confidential. A media outlet that files a request through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) may be able to obtain some information concerning a university’s Title IX investigation.

Depending on the findings of a Title IX inquiry, a student who is found responsible for sexual misconduct may also carry a mark on his or her transcript that would tip future educational institutions off to previous allegations.

What Are the Steps Involved in a Title Ix Investigation Process?

Colleges and universities have written Codes of Conduct under which sexual assault and harassment allegations fall. Each individual school’s Code of Conduct determines how Title IX hearings are applied, including the parameters surrounding the burden of proof, how long the investigation will take, and the details of the hearing and appeals process. A student cannot be expelled from a college or university without the due process of a hearing.

A complainant can either file a grievance with the school they attend or with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR), the body responsible for enforcing Title IX law. They may also choose to file a private lawsuit against the alleged respondent, independent of any formal proceedings initiated by the school. Title IX complainants are not required to make a police report.

Following a complaint, an appointed Title IX coordinator will interview both parties and any witnesses. The coordinator is responsible for communicating information regarding the Title IX proceedings to both the complainant and to the accused, examining the evidence, and determining whether or not a violation occurred. Based on that individual’s conclusion, the Title IX coordinator can recommend sanctions ranging from having a formal written warning, also known as a no-contact letter, placed in the student’s file to banning them from the university or barring them from certain university activities.

Universities may require accused students to submit a statement before a Title IX hearing is held. Once that statement is submitted, the respondent may not have the opportunity to present any new details that weren’t previously outlined. Often, a student goes into a Title IX investigation without the knowledge that any statement they provide to school administrators could result in suspension, expulsion or even criminal charges.

Unlike criminal matters, which require a prosecutor to carry the burden of proof, Title IX investigations ask for proof that a crime did not occur. Title IX investigators are not held to the same level of due process that courts are required to follow.

The respondent is required to act on his or her own behalf during a Title IX hearing, and attorneys are not allowed to speak at this time. However, involving legal counsel is a good idea so that they can help prepare for the hearing in an advisory role. During a hearing, the respondent may be asked to present his or her statement, provide evidence of their innocence, and question or cross examine the accuser, as well as offer a closing argument.

Could I Face Criminal Charges for Title Ix Accusations?

A college or university’s obligation to investigate a Title IX complaint is not dependent upon law enforcement’s actions because it involves the school and is not a legal matter. A campus investigation into sexual misconduct may take place without legal charges. Even in cases where criminal charges are not brought against the accused, the educational institution must investigate allegations or risk being held responsible for paying for a victim’s damages.

A defendant in a criminal case has the right to refuse to speak with investigators, and his or her silence cannot be used against them to infer guilt. However, failure to cooperate with school administration may be viewed differently during Title IX investigations. Statements made as part of a Title IX investigation can be used against a defendant later in a criminal case. A criminal investigation can occur alongside a Title IX inquiry if law enforcement becomes involved in the case.

A person accused of sexual misconduct could face both disciplinary and legal consequences simultaneously. If you’ve been accused of misconduct under Title IX, you have the right to choose not to provide a statement to school officials to avoid criminal prosecution, which carries serious consequences. Hire a sex crimes attorney who is familiar with Title IX cases to represent you, give advice, and build a strong defense in case criminal charges are filed.

Will My College or University Look Out for My Rights in Case of False Title Ix Allegations?

Due to the intense medica scrutiny these cases tend to invite, there have been instances recently involving administrators who failed to protect the rights and due process of accused students. Administrators may choose not to address evidence that favors the accused’s innocence during a Title IX hearing. This has resulted in several lawsuits against schools for not upholding accused students’ rights by failing to follow due process.

Don’t assume that your university will defend your rights as adamantly as those of the complainant’s. School officials may discourage you from seeking legal assistance, but you should act quickly to hire a criminal defense attorney who can look out for your rights and interests during a Title IX investigation. A criminal defense attorney’s job is to keep the accused party in school whenever possible and to prevent them from being arrested and facing criminal charges.

Can I Appeal a Title Ix Decision?

Generally speaking, Title IX decisions are final, except in circumstances where new evidence is later revealed, or if it’s decided that the penalties imparted on the respondent are disproportionate to the violation of which they were accused according to the school’s Code of Conduct.

An accused student may also be able to appeal a Title IX decision on the grounds that the school failed to follow proper procedures. For example, in scenarios where the school failed to inform the respondent of his or her rights or to explain how a Title IX hearing works.

The attorneys at Berry Law will listen to the details of your case and offer sound legal advice and representation. They have the experience you need litigating sexual assault cases and helping clients navigate Title IX accusations.

In the meantime, avoid discussing the allegations against you, including attempting to communicate with the complainant or his and her family members and friends. It’s against the law to retaliate against a complainant, and any communication could be misconstrued as harassing or threatening a witness.

If you need to learn more about Title IX accusations and college, please do not hesitate to reach out to our office today.

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