After years of decisions in which the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) criticized colleges' and universities' handling of claims filed by individuals alleging sexual assault on campus, OCR now turns its attention to protections for accused students. OCR’s decision joins a number of recent court decisions in which campus disciplinary decisions have been stalled or overturned due to concerns about due process and fundamental fairness protections for accused students.

Yesterday, OCR announced that a college in Delaware violated Title IX when it did not provide accused students with an equitable Title IX process. OCR expressed concern that accused students were not given an opportunity to respond to the allegations against them; interim suspensions were imposed without an opportunity to put forth a defense; relevant evidence was not shared with accused students in advance of the hearing; and the disciplinary process moved too quickly to provide an adequate resolution of the claims.

To address its findings, OCR entered into a settlement agreement with the college requiring the college to review its handling of the cases involving several accused students to determine whether the discipline imposed should be lifted and the students reimbursed for the costs of completing their degrees at other institutions. OCR also required the college to make revisions to its policies and procedures, conduct annual climate assessments, and provide campus-wide training on sexual harassment and sexual violence.

Colleges and universities are advised to review closely Title IX policies to ensure that published policies and procedures reflect equitable treatment of all parties, and that Title IX processes build in procedural protections for complainants and respondents at all stages of the process.

Attorneys in Ballard Spahr’s Higher Education Practice Group regularly advise clients on Title IX compliance, including claims raised by individuals accused of sexual misconduct. Our attorneys have considerable experience drafting and reviewing sexual misconduct policies and procedures, providing training to campus constituents, and investigating claims of sexual harassment and sexual violence. If you have questions about this alert, Title IX compliance, or Title VI requirements, please contact Olabisi "Bisi" Okubadejo at okubadejoo@ballardspahr.com or 410.528.5532.


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