Allegations of sexual assault and discrimination at colleges and universities and their subsequent mishandling of said allegations have become a large part of the nationwide #MeToo discussion. At the center of the conversations are the regulations imposed on universities by the Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX states that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Title IX regulations govern any discriminatory complaints that a student brings at a university, be it against a student or member of faculty or staff. Title IX does not simply encompass sexual assault allegations but rather complaints of any sort of discriminatory nature on the basis of gender, including treatment of pregnant or parenting students, discriminatory practices in athletics, and admissions practices.
What happens when colleges and universities do not comply with Title IX? The language of the statute very clearly states that any college or university that receives federal funding must comply with these regulations, or they will face withholding of federal funds. However, would the federal government actually withhold funds from a large university when those funds are a large part of its budget?
The recent investigation against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill provides an overview of what to expect when a school is under investigation for failure to comply with Title IX regulations. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights began a formal investigation into UNC’s handling of Title IX complaints after two women, both alumni of the university who previously filed sexual assault complaints against other students, began a national campaign demanding greater scrutiny of the university’s practices after they university failed to comply with federal procedures in handling their complaints. After five years of thorough federal investigation, the government found that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill had violated Title IX procedures. Instead of denial of federal funding, the university formulated a resolution agreement with the Department of Education. The University must prove to the Department of Education that it is in compliance with Title IX procedures. Mandatory actions are:
- The university must give clear notice to employees, students, and third parties about its sexual harassment and sex discrimination policies;
- The university must give concurrent written notice of all stages of the grievance process;
- The university must provide a more refined description of the voluntary informal resolution process;
- The university must expressly state that a dean, director, or department chair may not reject investigative findings and recommendations or corrective actions in complaints against employees;
- The university must provide links to descriptions of appeal procedures.
If these mandatory actions seem paltry, that is because they are. They are not punishments, but rather actions to get the University of North Carolina to where it always should have been regarding Title IX procedures. The likelihood that the government would actually deny a large state school like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill federal funding was always very low, especially considering that UNC received $643,952,831 in federal grants and contracts for its 2017 budget, thirty percent of UNC’s total operating revenues for 2017.
It is likely that other universities will follow this pattern as investigations into university handling of Title IX procedures continues. Currently, the Department of Education is still investigating 392 cases of alleged mishandling of Title IX complaints about sexual violence. It is inconceivable that the government would withhold funds from every school found in violation of Title IX procedures.
The real punishment that universities face is to their reputations. Universities strive for pristine reputations and high enrollment rates – If the university cannot keep its students safe, what parent would feel comfortable sending his or her son or daughter there? Universities have faced serious backlash for failures to properly handle these complaints. In the case of the University of North Carolina, a documentary film followed the two alumni who sparked the federal investigation, and dragged the university’s reputation through the mud.
If you are struggling to file a Title IX complaint or are looking to do so, DC Student Defense lawyers are here to help.
These materials have been prepared by Cohen Seglias for informational purposes only and are not intended and should not be construed as legal advice.