The MLO Minute: By Joseph E. McGettigan, Esq.
Few students contemplate that they may be the victims of gender-related misconduct, like sexual assault. Even fewer would ever imagine that they might engage in sexual misconduct or be accused of such behavior. If you are a student at an institution of higher education or the parent of a student, you have made a significant commitment to educational achievement. You have demonstrated that commitment by expending your time, effort, and money. A Title IX investigation and its outcome can render all of that commitment useless. No student, no parent, should become involved in a Title IX investigation without the benefit of skilled and experienced counsel. The stakes are just too high.
Title IX is federal law established as a part of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. In its initial form Title IX stated simply 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’s original motive may have been strictly to ensure equal access for men and women to fully participate in educational opportunities and activities. As time passed, however, other laws, additional amendments, and subsequent interpretations have made Title IX the guide by which virtually every college and university must address complaints of sexual assault and other gender related misconduct. This means that if a student is the victim of sexual misconduct, is accused of sexual misconduct, or is even just a witness any kind of gender- related misbehavior, that student and others involved will be part of formal, extensive Title IX investigations conducted by the institution.
Once a Title IX investigation begins, any involved student can become entangled in a confusing and dangerous high stakes proceeding. Depending on the skill, experience, and character of the Title IX staff, the investigation may or may not uncover the truth, or do justice. And a Title IX investigation may not be about what is best for any of the students involved. No matter how accomplished the student, or how good the school has been to him or her up until then, the Title IX investigation can often become about conducting an investigation that will protect the school. That is why any student who is or may be involved in a Title IX investigation in any capacity should have expert guidance as early as possible in this process.
What are the pitfalls that an uncounseled student may encounter if involved in a Title IX investigation? Here are just a few.
- An uncounseled victim of sexual misconduct or assault may inadvertently relate events in a way that allows the school to minimize or dismiss the victimization.
- An uncounseled student who has been falsely accused may provide an interview to an investigator with a bias, or who is trying to trap the student, or who has an agenda – hidden or open.
- And students who have in fact committed misconduct may, if not counseled, fail to consider ways in which they might mitigate the harm caused or properly reduce the damage they have done to themselves.
Title IX’s scope is very broad and complex, and its application varies from school to school. Every student and parent should understand that anyone who is or may be involved in a Title IX investigation is entitled to be represented and advised. They should absolutely seek the advice of experienced counsel as soon as possible, and certainly before participating in any investigation. A college education is perhaps the most critical component of a young person’s future, and is a huge investment. Our firm’s legal team is fully prepared to assist you.