University Business October 2017 - 58

PROFESSIONAL OPINION

Ensuring Title IX fairness
for the accuser and the accused
A recent ruling provides guidance for campus sexual assault investigations
By Jack Sharman, Brandon Essig and Clint Speegle

As this issue was going to press, Education
Secretary Betsy DeVos announced intentions to reverse Obama-era guidelines on
handling sexual assault cases at colleges
and universities. Until such time as the
guidelines are clarified, institutions should
continue following established practices.

A

recent decision by U.S. District
Court Judge Philip Simon
granted a preliminary injunction in favor of a male University of
Notre Dame student. The ruling overturned, in-part, the school's disciplinary
action against the student after a Title
IX investigation.
Specifically, Simon overturned the
school's penalty of immediate expulsion
of the student-just weeks prior to his
final exams and graduation-and ordered that the student be allowed to sit
for his final exams.
But a preliminary injunction does
not end disciplinary action, so other
aspects of the school's punishment remained in place pending the outcome
of litigation. However, Simon was
critical of the process Notre Dame used
throughout the investigation.
Simon's order highlights the dilemma institutions face when they seek to
provide both a fundamentally fair Title
IX process to the students involved and
comply with the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

UBmag.me/title

58 | October 2017

His critiques of Notre Dame offer some
practical guidance and basic practices
that can promote fairness to students
without running afoul of the OCR.
The Dear Colleague letter of 2011
In 2011, the OCR issued a "Dear Colleague" letter (UBmag.me/dcl) on the
subject of campus sexual assault and
on how, under Title IX, colleges and
universities are expected to handle such

In a Title IX investigation,
institutions are
challenged to provide a
fundamentally fair process
while complying with the
Office for Civil Rights.
claims. High-profile lawsuits, OCR investigations and new congressional legislative interest have all conspired to mean
that colleges and universities ignore the
Dear Colleague situation to their peril.
Unlike the disciplinary process for
a cheating scandal, the resolution of a
sexual assault case is a classic "parallelproceedings" scenario. At any moment
there may be an administrative proceeding (by the university), as well as a
criminal investigation (by external law
enforcement) and potential civil lawsuits
by either the accuser or the respondent.
In the university disciplinary context, parallel proceedings raise at least
two often troubling-and sometimes
disastrous-special issues:

1. Sex, alcohol and credibility.
Campus sexual misconduct investigations often arise from dating and social
relationships. Allegations arising from
such relationships are among the most
difficult to prove, as they often hinge
on credibility of the accuser and the
accused. When alcohol and other recreational substances are involved, credibility assessments can only be made
through detailed inquiries that make
use of all available evidence, including
unbiased interviews of both parties.
Getting the right answer in such
investigations is difficult. For this reason, the conclusion of every investigation results in an aggrieved party and
the potential for legal action against
the investigation and the outcome, or
both. These factors create compelling
incentives for institutions to implement
robust processes that promote the safety
and serenity of the accuser, but also
afford the accused the opportunity to
challenge the accuser's version of events
and any other witnesses or evidence
used in the investigation.
2. Title IX, due process and crime.
OCR's Dear Colleague guidance promotes practices and procedures that
directly contradict the basic notions of
fairness and due process that exist in
almost any other type of investigation.
This is especially problematic in Title
IX investigations, because the alleged
conduct almost always overlaps with a
criminal statute.
As such, a lawyer representing the
accused must assert basic constitutional
protections, including the Fifth Amendwww.universitybusiness.com


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