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Colleges and Universities Should Review Title IX Policies in Wake of DOJ Investigation

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On April 22, 2016, the Department of Justice released its findings from an investigation that it undertook against the University of New Mexico (UNM) regarding its compliance with Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The investigation examined UNM’s policies and practices for investigating and responding to complaints of sexual assault and sexual harassment, as well as its training for staff, students, and faculty, including those responsible for coordinating Title IX enforcement and investigating complaints of sexual harassment and assault.

The DOJ concluded that:

  • UNM’s policies and procedures failed to provide clear and consistent notice of prohibited conduct and were not effectively publicized, resulting in confusion as to where victims should report sexual harassment and assault;
  • The University’s sexual harassment training was lacking in content and depth and did not align with best practices in the field;
  • UNM’s grievance procedures violate Title IX and Title IV; and
  • The University’s staff is not adequately trained to avoid gender bias, to promptly investigate complaints, and to effectively gather evidence.

The DOJ will now require UNM to revise its policies, procedures, and investigative practices to ensure prompt and equitable resolution of sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations.

What should you do in light of this ruling? We encourage colleges and universities to undertake a comprehensive review of their existing policies and procedures, as well as any training provided to Title IX coordinators and other individuals who are involved in investigating sexual assault and harassment complaints, to ensure compliance with the DOJ’s directives.  Members of the Steptoe & Johnson Higher Education team are familiar with the DOJ’s guidance regarding Title IX and stand ready to assist with compliance efforts.

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