December 28, 2023

A common, and perhaps even disastrous, misconception that a person (or that person’s parents) can make when dealing with a Title IX proceeding at a university, college, or other school is to assume that a person does not need an attorney. 

There are a number of reasons why a person may think that they do not need an attorney for a Title IX proceeding. In fact, retaining an attorney might not ever even cross that person’s mind, or may feel like an admission of guilt. First off, the Title IX proceeding is not taking place in a courtroom and does not necessarily involve law enforcement or any government prosecutorial body. State or federal laws of evidence do not necessarily apply, nor might substantive or procedural due process rights that one would expect in a governmental proceeding.

However, the negative consequences of a Title IX proceeding on an individual’s life might be even greater than those found in a criminal or civil matter in a government courtroom. A Title IX proceeding can result in expulsion or suspension from the school as a student, or termination as a teacher, professor, administrator, or other employee. These can in turn result in loss of expensive fees and tuition, inability to enroll at another institution, and a disciplinary record that can affect future schooling or employment. A finding of misconduct can also provide a basis for a civil lawsuit by alleged victims or even a criminal prosecution. 

For these reasons, it is generally in a person’s interest to seek out experienced Title IX counsel in any scenario in which they are being investigated and/or facing penalties in a Title IX proceeding.

Situations Requiring a Title IX Attorney

If you’ve only heard about Title IX occasionally in the news, you could be forgiven for thinking that it is basically about gender equality in college sports. While Title IX does pertain to high school and college sports, that is only one aspect of its reach. 

Less well-known is the fact that Title IX creates significant risks for students, teachers, professors, administrators, and other employees who attend colleges and universities (in addition to other educational organizations) that receive federal funding, which is nearly all such institutions of higher learning. Completely separate from the topic of sports, such schools are required to conduct investigations and disciplinary proceedings against those individuals accused of certain activity such as stalking, sexual harassment, sexual violence, and sexual discrimination

Allegations of such activity on campuses have been prevalent for decades, and the pressure on schools to take swift action is often at a fever pitch, which unfortunately can result in a lack of due process or fairness for the accused. Thus, even if a person facing a Title IX investigation or other proceeding feels there is little to no evidence supporting the underlying allegations, it can be a significant mistake to forgo legal representation in such situations. 

The Requirements of Title IX

Educational institutions that must comply with Title IX requirements (which again are all public universities and colleges and nearly all such private schools) are required to implement and execute certain procedures relating to allegations of sexual harassment, violence, and discrimination. 

These procedures include adopting and publishing “grievance” procedures for students who wish to file complaints related to these alleged acts which must provide for “prompt” and “equitable” resolution of such complaints. Additionally, Title IX provides for a number of protections for complainants, such as the ability to provide evidence of their complaints and receive notifications of the school’s investigations into their complaints. 

Schools that fail to properly comply with the requirements for Title IX requirements face significant penalties and thus are under intense pressure from the federal government to pursue Title IX complaints, in addition to the often intense pressure that school administrators face on-campus from students and others when allegations of sex-based wrongdoing arise. 

How Title IX Proceedings Are Different from Criminal Investigations

Conversely, those accused of wrongdoing pursuant to Title IX proceedings may well find that they have many less protections in the process compared to those found in an investigation by law enforcement. Constitutional protections familiar to us from “Law and Order”-style TV procedurals and Supreme Court cases may be hard to find in a Title IX proceeding. For example, if the police arrest you, they are required to inform you of your right to an attorney, and a court must provide you with an attorney in a felony proceeding if you cannot afford one. Such protections cannot be expected in a Title IX proceeding, and it is generally incumbent on the accused individual (and/or their families) to not only realize that they need a lawyer but to also go secure such legal representation. 

Furthermore, the level of evidence necessary is not the same as in a criminal proceeding. While it is necessary for government prosecutors to prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” to a jury of one’s peers that generally must determine such guilt on a unanimous basis, a Title IX proceeding may only require a showing of “preponderance of the evidence” (meaning simply that the allegations are more likely true than not) and this can be decided by administrators rather than a jury of one’s peers in a public courtroom. Additionally, certain types of evidence may be used against an accused in a Title IX proceeding that would be inadmissible in a criminal courtroom, where certain constitutional protections (e.g., the Fourth Amendment) and hearsay rules limit what evidence can be used against an accused. 

The Benefits of Legal Representation

Although it is the case that a college or university cannot sentence a person to jail in the same way a criminal court can, again the consequences in a Title IX proceeding might be far worse than a limited jail term. It can be difficult to quantify the lost earnings, reputational cost, and general emotional damage of a Title IX proceeding where an accused loses his or her standing and/or career in an educational institution and/or field. 

The approach of attempting to “go it alone” in a Title IX proceeding based on the hope that the issue will be quietly and fairly resolved in a positive manner without the help of experienced counsel and guidance can result in irreversible negative consequences that can impact a person’s educational and professional life for decades to come. While engaging with an attorney to address the challenge of a Title IX disciplinary investigation or other proceedings may initially feel unnecessary or even an admission of guilt, understanding the severe implications of an adverse outcome in such a proceeding makes clear that doing everything possible to address these potential consequences – including asserting your lawful right to independent legal counsel – often far outweighs the initial concerns involved with reaching out for legal assistance. 

Contact a California Title IX Attorney Today

Zweiback, Fiset & Zalduendo has extensive experience with the Title IX process and other academic disciplinary proceedings and skillfully guide our clients through these complex matters. We have represented clients in administrative hearings before school boards, in negotiations with universities and high schools, and in related civil proceedings. Our attorneys understand how highly personal and sensitive academic disciplinary and Title IX proceedings are for all involved, and we work closely with clients and their families to make the process swift, effective, and discrete. Contact us today!

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