Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Elmira Resolution Announced Today

Today the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights announced a resolution agreement with Elmira College in New York, after finding the college in violation of some of Title IX's requirements governing its sexual assault response. OCR's investigation was prompted by the complaint of a student who reported to campus officials in November of 2013 that she had been sexually assaulted by a fellow student. (Specifically, she reported that he had become"forceful" and she agreed to have sex with him "out of fear.") After investigation, the final investigative report concluded that the respondent committed sexual misconduct, but did not engage in sexual assault, and sanctioned the respondent with a no-contact order. OCR determined that while the college's response was equitable, the fact the it did not start investigating the complainant's November report until February of the following year was not sufficiently "prompt." It rejected the college's argument that such delay was reasonable in light of Thanksgiving break, final exams, winter break, and a one-week illness of the complainant.

Alone this violation may not seem like a big deal, and even OCR noted that the delay did not seem to result in the further harassment of the complainant.  But the agency also pointed out that when it looked at 16 other sexual harassment/misconduct complaints resolved by Elmira between 2012 and 2016, it found some "violation or concern" in all but one of them, "including instances where the college failed to provide prompt and equitable investigations and took insufficient measures to assess and address the impact of harassment and possible hostile environments." In other words, a pattern of getting it not-quite-right.

As a result, OCR and Elmira agreed that Elmira would commit to training for its Title IX coordinator and other staff members who play a role in the grievance process. The college must also review its own investigations that have occurred more recently than OCR's investigation, to ensure that they were conducted in a prompt and equitable manner.