University of Alaska System – February 2017
In late February, the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) entered into a Resolution Agreement with the University of Alaska System related to a compliance review initiated by OCR to investigate the System’s handling of sexual harassment complaints. The OCR determined that the System, which includes its three largest hubs – University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Alaska Fairbanks, and University of Alaska Southeast and their satellite campuses, was in violation of Title IX with regard to its responses to sexual harassment complaints. Of particular note, the terms of the Resolution Agreement include a requirement for the System to designate a senior Title IX administrator, in addition to the Title IX coordinators at each university, to oversee System-wide compliance with the requirements of Title IX.
Palo Alto Unified School District – March 2017
OCR recently released a Resolution Letter and Resolution Agreement with Palo Alto Unified School District in Palo Alto, California in relation to investigations OCR opened in 2013 and 2014 regarding two high schools in the School District. OCR found the School District’s handling of Title IX complaints to be in violation of the law. The terms of the Resolution Agreement include, amongst other requirements, that the School District implement a confidential online system for students and parents to make anonymous Title IX reports.
Wittenberg University – March 2017
In late March, OCR released a Resolution Letter and Resolution Agreement with Wittenberg University, a private university in Springfield, Ohio, in relation to Title IX complaints filed with OCR in 2011 and 2013, alleging that Wittenberg failed to properly respond to sexual assault complaints and that Wittenberg’s grievance procedures did not comply with Title IX.
OCR found Wittenberg in violation of Title IX, noting the following deficiencies during specified academic years:
- failure to designate a Title IX Coordinator and failure to provide notice of the Title IX Coordinator;
- failure of the Wittenberg’s Notice of Nondiscrimination to indicate that inquiries could be referred to the Title IX Coordinator or OCR;
- grievance procedures applied only to sexual harassment, including sexual assault, and not to all forms of sex discrimination;
- grievance procedures permitted mediation of matters involving sexual assault;
- grievance procedures were not clear as to whether they applied to third parties;
- grievance procedures provided for the termination of the Title IX process upon the initiation of a civil, criminal, or agency proceeding.
OCR further noted that it has identified elements for evaluating whether grievance procedures are prompt and equitable, including whether the procedures provide for the following:
- notice of the procedure, including where a complaint may be filed, that is easy to understand, easy to locate, and widely distributed;
- application of the procedures to complaints of discrimination or harassment by employees, students, or third parties;
- an adequate, reliable, and impartial investigation of complaints that includes the opportunity to present evidence and witnesses;
- reasonably prompt time frames designated for the major stages of the complaint process;
- notice provided to parties of the outcome of the complaint; and
- assurance that the institution will take steps necessary to prevent recurrence of harassment and to correct discriminatory effects of harassment on the complaint or others.