Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Michigan State's Grievance Procedure Violated Title IX

Today the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights released the findings and conclusions of its investigation into two students' complaints that Michigan State University mishandled their complaints of sexual assault and related harassment and retaliation.  OCR determined that deficiencies in Michigan State's grievance procedure violated Title IX, as did its failure to notify students of the identity and role its Title IX Coordinator. Specifically, OCR found that even though it had notice of the alleged assault on the first student, Michigan State waited weeks before commencing an investigation because its policies at the time did not permit the university to go forward until the alleged victim filed a formal complaint. OCR determined that once the University initiated the investigation, it provided a thorough, impartial and equitable response. In the second student's case, it took the University a year from the time of report to resolve the matter, a time frame that OCR determined did not satisfy the requirement for a "prompt" resolution. 

In addition to reviewing the two complainant's cases, OCR also review three years worth of files documenting the university's response to sexual harassment and assault.  There it found more instances of delayed resolution, as well as possible failure on the university's part to notify the complainants of the final outcomes in their cases and their rights to appeal.  In one file, OCR made the "troubling" finding that the University waited until multiple sexual harassment complaints were filed to take action against a counselor who was reported to have harassed students who were seeking support for having been sexually assaulted.  In another case, the University wrongly dismissed a claim of co-worker sexual harassment because it was not sufficiently severe, despite having found credible the complaining employee's description of how the harassment had negatively affected the work environment.  There were other, similar examples of the University's inadequate handling of employee harassment. 

In response to OCR's findings, Michigan State has agreed to a number of corrective measures, including revising inadequate policies, improving notice of the Title IX Coordinator, improving staff training as well as training for students and student-athletes in particular, developing a Memorandum of Understanding with local law enforcement, and offering to address any harm students who reported sexual harassment or assault incurred as a result of the university's delay in processing their complaints.