Title IX Hearing Lawyers
Sexual assault and harassment is among the most high-profile and highly politicized issues on college and university campuses. While this politicization has brought an important issue to light, it has created a great deal of trouble due to frequent policy changes. These policies, under Title IX or “Title 9”, leave many students, both the accused and accusers, confused about what their rights are.
If you have received a notice about a Title IX investigation against you, or are facing allegations of sexual misconduct, you must contact an experienced Title IX lawyer. The lawyers at Tarlton Polk have the skills and experience necessary to protect your rights. We understand that these allegations not only present a threat of criminal punishment but also potentially lifelong consequences in your daily life if your innocence is not maintained.
History of Title IX
Title IX is a policy that shifts quickly with the political landscape. It is a federal law enacted in 1972 that prohibits colleges and universities from discriminating against, excluding, or denying benefits of education based on sex. For many years Title IX was largely misunderstood as a sports-equity law, but that drastically changed during the Obama Administration.
In 2011, under the Obama Administration, the Department of Education released the “Dear Colleague” letter told universities that sexual violence and harassment are forms of sex-based discrimination. While such issues on college campuses were largely left up to the criminal justice system, this made it an obligation for colleges to investigate sexual harassment and assault claims on campuses and take steps to prevent them from happening. Universities and colleges were now required to have a process to investigate and judge complaints of sexual assault that were parallel to and separate to any criminal investigation conducted by law enforcement.
While this change was applauded by many activists on campus for offering alleged victims more avenues for relief, in practice it stifled the right to due process of everybody involved.
How did they Conduct Title IX Hearings?
After the 2011 changes, universities adopted different policies for handling accusations of sexual assault or harassment.
The general approach has been have the accused student brought before a panel in a Title IX hearing. Faculty-sourced panel members reviewed evidence and allegations brought against the accused student and determined if they disobeyed the code of conduct. This process often raised many issues and drew criticism even from some feminist activists, with issues such as:
- Non-transparent Process: An important part of due process is transparency. You should know what you’re being accused of and what evidence exists against you. In an effort to supposedly protect accusers, many universities made it difficult for the accused to even learn about the details of the accusations to effectively respond to them.
- Panel Member Biases: While the panel members were required to be unbiased judges, this is incredibly difficult to enforce and often was not the case. Unlike in criminal trials where the defense has some influence over jury selection, students could be facing a completely biased panel with no oversight or accountability.
- Preponderance of the Evidence: In criminal proceedings, a person is found guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt”, which sets a very high standard for proving criminal conduct. The principle is simple: it is more just to allow a guilty person to remain free (for the time being) than to take freedom away from an innocent person. Title IX hearings followed a lower standard of “preponderance of the evidence”, where if it just seemed slightly more likely that a person violated policy, then they can be punished.
- Unclear Definitions of Assault and Harassment: While criminal law aims to be incredibly precise in defining what is and is not a crime, to the point that it allows some people who are likely guilty to get off on technicalities, the same could not be said for Title IX. Defining and educating students on consensual behavior has changed so much over the years, and this education often still fails to address fairly common issues such as how consent works when participating parties are all intoxicated.
If the panel found the student guilty of misconduct, depending on the conduct they were accused of, they could potentially face expulsion. Not only will this mean a loss of money and time spent working towards a degree, but it could often make it difficult to transfer to another college as well.
How has Title IX Changed in 2020?
On August 14, 2020, new regulations on Title IX were brought forth by the Trump Administration. Reception of these changes were heavily politicized and quite mixed, but the administration claimed the purpose of the changes were to restore due process. These changes certainly make things more fair to the accused, while arguably still making it reasonable for accusers to go through the process. The new regulations include the following changes:
- Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: return to a standard of innocent until proven guilty, as it is used in the criminal justice system.
- Cross-Examination: The accused (i.e. their legal counsel) have the right to cross-examine the accuser and any witnesses.
- Evaluating all Evidence: The proceedings should not favor evidence on the side of the accuser (inculpatory evidence), over evidence that favors the accused (exculpatory evidence).
- Extending Hearing Time: Universities largely offered a 60-day time-frame to carry out their cases, which was not nearly enough time if the student was concurrently facing a criminal investigation which take significantly longer.
- Notice of Allegations: The accused is entitled to receive a more detailed and robust notice of the allegations they are facing.
- Redefining Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was defined to be conduct that is “severe, persistent, and objectively offensive.”
For people who favor due-process, most of these changes have been welcome and have given Title IX lawyers more avenues to represent their clients best interests. Though, they are not without controversy, and the future of this policy is uncertain.
Will the 2020 Changes be Revoked?
The Biden administration has signaled changes to Title IX, but it is not yet clear how they will look. While some may expect a simple revocation of the 2020 changes back to the Obama administration days, there are reasons to believe it might play out differently.
On the progressive side of this controversy, there is more of a push to include more protections for LGBTQ students in Title IX, especially on the basis of gender-identity. Many people in this camp may want many or all of the 2020 changes to be revoked, especially the redefining of sexual harassment which some argue is too limited. However, these interests may clash with administrative challenges, especially when it comes to due process issues. Many universities struggled with enforcing Title IX and suffered handling lawsuits from accused students when their rights of due process were clearly violated.
Legal Defense in a Title IX Hearing
As Title IX is a policy in constant flux, where definitions are redefined and procedures are shifted, Title IX lawyers ought to stay as up-to-date as possible. The lawyers at Tarlton Polk follow these changes very carefully to ensure that they can offer clients the best possible representation. Not only does our team have the necessary experience to handle Title IX cases, we are also exceptionally skilled at tackling sex crime accusations in criminal trials. This means that we know how to hold universities to a standard of fairness and justice for the accused, and if the case escalates where the accused becomes a defendant in a criminal case, we will be more than ready to defend their innocence.
If you or a loved one have been accused in a Title IX case, do not hesitate to reach out to us for help.