It’s normal for college students to wonder what to expect during a Title IX investigation. Whether a student is the complainant (person filing the complaint) or respondent (person answering the complaint), understanding basic Title IX due process rights and obligations that institutions must afford parties can alleviate the stress and anxiety associated with trying to navigate an already emotionally charged quasi-judicial process. While each college or university has its own policies and procedures, most have common elements that can be explained to demystify the process. Let’s outline some basics about the Title IX investigation process.
What Happens After a Title IX Complaint is Filed?
After a complaint is filed and a respondent receives notice of the charge against him or her, the Title IX office or Office of Equity (each school has its own name) will begin a Title IX investigation. Sometimes, the college has designated investigators on staff. Other universities hire independent, outside investigators to conduct the investigation. Either way, the designated investigators begin the process by interviewing the parties and witnesses and reviewing any evidence submitted by the parties. Each party may have an advisor present during the interview process and, hopefully, will have used the advisor to help prepare for the meeting with the investigators.
The investigators will then prepare a preliminary report that summarizes the interviews and evidence presented in the case. The parties are given an opportunity to read the report and make corrections, if necessary, or provide additional evidence if that evidence was not available at the time of the initial interview. Again, student advisors should assist the student in deciding what response or corrections are needed in the preliminary report. A final report is then circulated to the parties after all the feedback is collected and analyzed by the investigators.
Under older policies (pre-Aug. 14, 2020), some colleges make findings of responsibility during this stage in the process and send recommendations to a third party to determine sanctions. It was not uncommon during this model, which was called the single investigator model, for respondents to appeal findings and sanctions if the finding of responsibility resulted in an overly harsh sanction of suspension or expulsion.
How New Title IX Regulations Affect Title IX Investigations and Due Process
Post-Aug. 14, 2020, colleges can no longer continue with the single investigator model if the accusations occurred after the enactment date of the new Title IX regulations. Students accused of a school conduct violation that falls under Title IX must be afforded more due process that would consist of a hearing and the right to cross-examine the other party and witnesses. For a more in-depth explanation of the new Title IX regulations, read this article. Most schools have the hearings conducted before three university employees, who have been (hopefully) trained on how to make credibility determinations and weigh evidence.
Title IX Hearings and Outcome Letters
The hearing panel makes the ultimate decision if the accused student is responsible for violating the school’s Title IX policy, and the decision is written down in what is often referred to as an outcome letter. The college sends the outcome letter to both parties. This letter explains whether the complainant met the burden of proof in proving that the respondent violated the school’s policy. If a student is found responsible for a policy violation, the outcome letter will outline the sanctions for the policy violation. There are no sanctions rendered at all if the respondent is found not responsible.
We have seen sanctions range from a warning to expulsion or even denying a graduating senior the conferral of a degree from the university. Under the new regulations, both parties have the right to appeal the outcome. However, universities typically limit the grounds that can be considered in an appeal, such as providing new evidence that was not available during the hearing, proving that the hearing panel did not follow proper procedures or, oftentimes, arguing that the sanction was overly harsh. Most schools only afford students one appeal and after that is decided, the decision is considered final.
Always Follow Rules and Deadlines
Each school’s policy must be reviewed to make sure that the rules are followed. For example, each school has its own timelines that if not followed, could result in waiving important rights that could even include the right to a hearing. We have seen students sanctioned and later realize that a sanction could have been avoided had they followed the policy and participated in the process in accordance with the stated timelines and procedures. If a student chooses a skilled advisor, the advisor will assist the student with understanding how to comply with the college’s policy.
If you have any questions about this article or would like to learn more about what to expect during a title ix investigation, contact Susan Stone (firstname.lastname@example.org / 216.736.7220) or Kristina Supler (email@example.com / 216.736.7217).