Wednesday, September 23, 2015

OCR Settles with UVA After Investigation Reveals "Mixed Record" of Compliance

On Monday the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights announced a resolution agreement with the University of Virginia, which had been under investigation for alleged violations of Title IX arising from the university's response to sexual harassment and sexual violence on campus. OCR determined that during the 2011-12 academic year, UVA had a "mixed record" -- sometimes handling cases adequately and other times failing to respond in the prompt and equitable manner required by law.  For example, in one case, the university took nine months to hold a hearing on a reported sexual assault, a delay that included five months between the completion of the investigator's report and the scheduled hearing date.  In that same case, the university was also faulted for failing to look at other responses (besides a disciplinary hearing) that may have been warranted by the situation. In another case, the university did not give the complainant adequate opportunity to defend charges contained in a cross-claim filed by the accused.

OCR's investigation also revealed that in situations where the complainant requested confidentiality or otherwise refused to participate in a disciplinary hearing, the university dropped the matter entirely rather than seeking to ascertain whether other responses might be appropriate in light of the university's obligation to protect all students.  In cases where the university had knowledge of a possible assault occurring in the context of a fraternity, it failed to investigate, it said, because the alleged victim did not wish to file a complaint.  Yet, the university could have still investigated the matter and considered other remedies besides those, like a disciplinary action, that require the complainant's participation.

Additionally, OCR found deficiencies in the university's handling of sexual harassment complaints filed against faculty members, which tended to be only minimally investigated and not well coordinated with the academic departments. 

OCR noted, however, that the sexual assault policy UVA adopted earlier this year is the first one that the agency has found to fully comply with the Title IX since the 2014 guidelines were issued. As such, the university is not obligated to make policy changes going forward.  However, it has agreed to go back and look at cases decided under the old policy in other recent years to see whether they were handled properly.  For any handled improperly, the university should provide "appropriate remedies that may still be available to the complainants .. and remedies that may be necessary to address the climate of the larger university community." The university also agreed to provide OCR with documentation of its response to sexual harassment and sexual violence complaints for the next two years.