In 1972, a civil rights measure was passed to provide gender equality in educational settings. In its early days, it was most notably applied to provide equal funding for women’s sports. This measure is known as Title IX. The scope and role of Title IX has changed and grown in the intervening decades. Title IX is now used to adjudicate much more complicated issues such as those of sexual harassment, sexual assault, stalking, and discrimination on college campuses.  Title IX applies to any college or university who receives any type of federal funding, including federally backed student loans.

Being accused of a Title IX violation is a serious issue. Unfortunately, the process can also be unclear and confusing. As a law firm who specializes in defending the rights of the accused in Massachusetts, we often find the accused is not properly informed of the charges and does not know his or her rights. This is not the situation anyone wants to be in when faced with a serious accusation.

A client from the Boston area found himself in this precise situation:  he was accused of a Title IX violation while attending a university south of Boston, but the process was flawed and the result to him was severe. Protect yourself and know your rights. Get an attorney who specializes in Title IX in your court immediately. Read more of how going it alone ended up being devastating to a Massachusetts college student.

The Accusation

Adam (to protect his privacy, we have changed his name) received an email from the university’s Title IX investigator stating that a member of the university community alleged that he may have, “engaged in conduct that may have violated the Code of Student Conduct.” It further said that he was accused of engaging “in nonconsensual inappropriate physical contact” with a named female student in his dorm on a particular date.  The email did not provide any other facts or details of the allegations and did not indicate what the physical contact was or that it was of a sexual nature.

When Adam responded to the email requesting additional information, he was not provided with any additional information about the facts/story behind the allegation, but the Title IX investigator who had sent the email demanded that Adam submit to an immediate interview. Adam agreed to meet with him the next day without having any of the facts about what he was accused of. Adam had never had any disciplinary issues and had no idea what his rights were in the situation. The Title IX investigator for this Massachusetts university did not inform Adam of his rights – although it is the responsibility of the investigator to do so. The only thing the investigator did was to put a link in the email to the college’s general disciplinary policies.

The Interview

Without clear understanding of the allegations and without an understanding of his rights, Adam was at a severe disadvantage; one which would have devastating consequences. He did not have enough time, details or advice to prepare a proper response for an interview that was demanded the next day!

Prior to the interview Adam should have been told what he was being accused of including the basic facts of the alleged incident, witness names, and the time, date and location of the incident. These should all have been provided sufficiently in advance of the interview so that Adam had time to prepare a response to the allegations and participate meaningfully.

Adam arrived for the interview unprepared to defend himself.  He informed the investigator that he has a diagnosis of dyslexia and that he was on a 504 educational plan at the university. He was not provided with any of the appropriate accommodations that should have been offered to him because of his dyslexia.

The university’s policy requires the investigator review any reports on the allegations with the accused at this first meeting. This was not done, and instead Adam was subjected to a two-hour interrogation by the investigator. About six weeks after this initial interview, Adam received official notice that he was being formally charged with nonconsensual sexual intercourse, assault and battery and disorderly conduct. But Adam still had not been provided with the most basic details about the incident. He had no narrative or summary of what his accuser claimed he did.  The notice of the formal charges also stated that he would have the opportunity to provide a written response to the investigative findings.

A week after being charged, he was provided with the investigative findings.  However, they provided no real additional information regarding the story behind the allegations.  The only additional details were that the accuser was intoxicated to the point of incapacitation and that he allegedly struck her with a paddle at some point.  However, no narrative, story or other context was provided.  There was no description by the accuser of the events leading up to the alleged offenses, the offenses themselves or what type of sexual contact was alleged to have taken place.  Adam simply still did not know what the accuser claimed he did to her. It was also apparent that the investigator did not interview any witnesses or conduct any real investigation.  Yet, under the University’s Code of Student Conduct, Adam was being found responsible for a Title IX violation.

A Belated Request for Help

At this point, Adam decided to get advice. He sought the services of an attorney. He requested the investigator’s report for his attorney. The request was denied due to confidentiality; this was wrong and a violation of Title IX against Adam.  Adam and his attorney were entitled to the investigator’s full report and any other documents upon which the decision was based.  Without the investigator’s report, his attorney had no context or even the basic story from which he could formulate a defense for Adam.  Without adequate information, Adam formulated the best response he could. An Administrative Review Panel reviewed the investigative findings and report; they unanimously found Adam responsible and expelled him from the university and banned him from campus.

The Decision and The Appeal

The written decision included information that Adam and his attorney had not been given. Adam was informed that he had five days to file an appeal. He filed one, which included as grounds for the appeal that he was deprived of his Due Process rights and was denied accommodations under section 504. His appeal was summarily denied.

The Lesson

Adam’s life has been permanently changed. His education has been interrupted, his university transcripts will include the charges, the findings and the expulsion, which will make continuing his education difficult. This, of course, will have an impact on his future career.  His only recourse at this point is to file a lawsuit against the university for their violations of Title IX and certain other education laws, but this will take time, money and energy that Adam may not want to spend.

Protect Your Rights. Get an Attorney in Your Court Immediately

Every student heading to college should be aware of Title IX and its role on campuses today. This is no longer just about equality in sports.  If an allegation is made against you, know that this is a serious situation. If you are accused, before you say anything ask what your rights are. It is scary and risky to go it alone. Seek advice and support. It’s best to get an attorney who specializes in Title IX accusations to ensure your rights are protected. Everyone is entitled to protection under the law. Knowing your rights may prevent you from receiving a life-altering outcome.

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