Friday, June 10, 2016

OCR Finds "Insufficient Evidence" of Most Title IX Violations Alleged Against Occidental College

The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights announced yesterday that it had entered into voluntary resolution with Occidental College in Los Angeles, closing the agency's investigation into the high-profile complaint alleging that the college had violated Title IX in its handling of sexual assault.  For the most part, the agency found "insufficient evidence" that Occidental's procedures and practices deviated from the requirements in the Dear Colleague Letter.  In particular, the specific allegations against Occidental that were raised by complainants were all rejected. For example, the agency rejected the charge that Occidental fails to take interim measures to protect complainants while the grievance process is ongoing; the college issues stay-away letters and interim suspensions from college activities, removed respondents from shared living spaces, and also made support and academic services available to complainants.  The agency also found insufficient evidence to support the charge that Occidental did not adequately punish those found responsible for sexual misconduct by providing respondents with the opportunity to complete educational assignments as part of a sanction (in lieu of expulsion). OCR determined that these sanctions were reasonable under the circumstances and that they were completed by the respondents who received them. The agency also determined that respondents who faced multiple, separate charges of sexual assault were appropriately sanctioned, by expulsion in some cases, or with circumstance-appropriate alternatives.  As a final example, complainants alleged that Occidental officials discouraged students from filing formal complaints, but OCR investigators could not substantiate this claim.

OCR's investigation did find that in the 2012-13 school year, Occidental failed to promptly handle a three sexual assault complaints without an adequate justification. The delays in these cases were caused by staffing vacancies and hearing officers who were unavailable. Since that time, however, Occidental has revised its policy to eliminate the hearing panel, created a new process to determine responsibility and sanctions, and has hired Deputy Coordinators. To ensure that these changes address the matter of timeliness going forward, the college and OCR have entered into a resolution agreement that OCR will monitor.

The complaint against Occidental was one of the early in the wave of post-Dear Colleague Letter complaints. It received national attention, in part, because the college was found to have concealed sexual assault statistics in violation of the Clery Act.[*]  In that context, it did not seem unlikely that a college that would suppress evidence of campus rape would also seek to discourage students from filing formal complaints and otherwise minimizing the consequences for those accused and found responsible of sexual assault. The findings that emerge from OCR's investigation, however, tell a different story.

*Update: Since writing this post initially, I learned that the report of these violations was later retracted. Occidental College is being investigated but has not been found responsible for violations of Clery Act.