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How to Handle a Title IX Investigation

Title IX was introduced to end discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs and activities. It's arguably been monumental in supporting fair and equal treatment in our schools. But at the same time, Title IX investigations can be massively problematic for the individuals and organizations facing them.

How exactly should you handle a Title IX investigation in progress?

Title IX: An Introduction

“Title IX” is shorthand for a federal law that “protects individuals from discrimination ‘based on sex’ in any education program or activity that receives federal funds from the U.S. Department of Education. This applies to virtually every school (K-12) and college in the United States, as almost all schools receive some form of federal funding.”

Every relevant school is required by law to comply with Title IX. This also means that schools facing allegations of sexual harassment or sexual assault must respond immediately and effectively to continue receiving federal funding.

Title IX processes begin with an accusation of sexual misconduct, sexual assault, sexual violence, sexual harassment, or any kind of discrimination on the basis of sex. After the accusation has been formally made, the school will receive notice of the alleged conduct and must follow certain steps, as formerly outlined in Title IX laws

These steps are rigorously controlled to ensure that the investigation is handled fairly, appropriately, and consistently across all cases. That said, processes vary depending on where the alleged misconduct took place.

You should receive an official letter letting you know that an investigation has begun. In this letter, you'll be able to read about specific rights and accommodations available to you, including your right to an attorney. It's important to take these rights and accommodations seriously and hire a legal advisor as soon as possible to assist you throughout the process.

During the official investigation, investigators will work with both the accuser and the accused institution to gather evidence, including official statements, photos, videos, phone records, social media posts, and physical evidence. After evidence is collected, the accuser and respondent will both have opportunities to review the evidence and make any corrections or edits necessary before the report is finalized.

At the end of the investigation, the final report will be submitted to the final decision maker. Depending on where the alleged infraction occurred, the final decision maker could be a principal, an assistant principal, a panel of multiple people, or a third party. 

If the respondent is found responsible for the violation, there will likely be consequences, though the severity and nature of those consequences will depend on the nature of the violation. Consequences can range from a simple, formal warning to loss of funding and loss of employment.

If any party is not satisfied with the outcome of the investigation, an appeal may be possible.

How to Handle a Title IX Investigation

If your organization is under investigation, follow these important guidelines:

  •       Hire a lawyer. Once you know you're under investigation, hire a lawyer with expertise in Title IX. This is going to be your legal advisor and representative in the investigation. They can help you better understand the accusations you face, the potential repercussions you could face, and the best courses of action in each step moving forward.
  •       When in doubt, stay silent. When answering questions and responding to prompts, stay silent or admit uncertainty whenever you're in doubt. Inconsistent statements will work against you, so it's in your best interest to stay as accurate and consistent as possible.
  •       Keep independent records. Make sure you keep independent records with the help of your lawyer. Review every piece of evidence very carefully and look for any inconsistencies or weaknesses you can find.
  •       Comply with investigators. The investigation will largely be out of your control, but it's still important to comply with investigators whenever reasonable to do so. If you feel the investigation is moving in an unreasonable direction, or that it isn't being handled properly, talk to your lawyer about it; they'll be able to help clarify the situation and intervene if necessary. Don't combat investigators on your own.
  •       Provide as much evidence as possible. The more evidence you have to showcase your side of the story, the better. Depending on the nature of the accusation, it may be hard to come up with pieces of evidence aligned with your vision of reality. Your lawyer can help you with this as well, helping you brainstorm types of evidence that might be valuable for strengthening your position or weakening the position of your accuser.

Nobody wants to end up as the subject of a Title IX investigation, but ultimately, it's not up to you. All you can do is respond to this type of investigation as competently and professionally as possible, with the help of a lawyer who can help you see the best possible final outcome.