Thursday, November 06, 2014

OCR Finds Title IX Violations at Princeton

The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights announced yesterday that it has entered into a resolution agreement with Princeton University after finding that the university violated Title IX in the manner on which it handled reports of sexual assault by students. OCR's findings derived from an investigation that was prompted by three complaints that the agency received from students who alleged to have been sexually assaulted on campus in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 academic years. The agreement obligates Princeton to correct aspects of its policies and procedures that resulted in the institution's failure to promptly and equitably respond to its students' reports of sexual assault, including instituting the correct “preponderance of the evidence” standard to investigate sexual assault and violence allegations, ensuring that parties' have symmetrical rights to appeal, and to provide prompt time frame of generally 45 days in which such matters should be handled.

Princeton is also obligated to re-visit all complaints of sexual misconduct that it received from the 2011-12 school year until now and evaluate those cases for whether its own response complied with Title IX's "prompt and equitable" standard as well as the institution's obligation to provide interim measures to the victim and address any hostile environment or retaliation experienced by the victim. Princeton must submit its review to OCR by February 1 of next year, and must also take "appropriate action to address any problems that it identifies in the manner in which these cases were handled."  According to the agreement, such appropriate action could include providing the victim with counseling or other support, an academic adjustment, or even reimbursement of educational expenses.  By way of example, I could imagine that if the victim's grade suffered as a result of the university taking too long to resolve her case, appropriate action might be revising her transcript as if she had withdrawn from the course.  Or if hypothetically the victim suffered repercussions from the university's botched response to her sexual assault that it ended up taking her longer to graduate, or if she had to move out of the dorm and lose her housing deposit because the university failed to take proper interim measures, then reimbursement of these added costs could be appropriate. 

One thing that resolution agreement makes clear, however, is that the university is not expected to re-open disciplinary matters that have already been concluded, even if it finds that the process was flawed in ways that could have been material to the outcome.  Even though the idea of rehearing is appealing from a fairness perspective, I'm guessing OCR considered this possibility to be too disruptive to people's settled expectations -- perhaps even including the victim's -- and not worth that emotional cost. All things considered, OCR seems to be saying that the best way to address problems with past sexual assault hearings is to acknowledge them, help the victim if possible, but leave the result alone.