Common Concerns When Filing a Title IX Complaint

I’m not sure if my Title IX rights were violated.

You may have our introduction to Title IX but still not be sure if your concerns are covered by the law. Your Title IX rights come from a fairly simple statute that reads:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

The US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has expanded upon how this statute should be understood and applied by educational programs and institutions and is responsible for enforcing the statute.

Cases of sexual harassment and sexual violence fall under Title IX if:

  • Discrimination that is persistent and pervasive. If you have experienced any kind of persistent sexual misconduct (i.e. stalking, abuse, frequent sexual comments), which prevents you—either physically or emotionally—from participating in normal college activities, that is a Title IX violation. Even if a single instance is not sufficiently harmful, the ongoing nature of these offenses leads to Title IX qualification.
  • Discrimination that is severe and traumatizing. In part due to the emotional trauma associated with these events, a single instance of rape meets this definition. If you experience a sexual assault that prevents you from participating in college activities, that is a Title IX violation.

The statute sets certain obligations upon schools, including:

  • Once a school knows or reasonably should know of possible sexual violence, it must take immediate and appropriate action to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred.
  • If sexual violence has occurred, a school must take prompt and effective steps to end the sexual violence, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects, whether or not the sexual violence is the subject of a criminal investigation.
  • A school must take steps to protect the complainant as necessary, including interim steps taken prior to the final outcome of the investigation.
  • A school must provide a grievance procedure for students to file complaints of sex discrimination, including complaints of sexual violence.  These procedures must include an equal opportunity for both parties to present witnesses and other evidence and the same appeal rights.
  • A school’s grievance procedures must use the preponderance of the evidence standard to resolve complaints of sex discrimination.
  • A school must notify both parties of the outcome of the complaint.

(Source: http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/dcl-factsheet-201104.html)

You can find more specifics about the above in our general resource guide on Title IX. If your case falls under Title IX and your school has not followed the above bullet points, your school has violated your Title IX rights. If you’re not sure your rights have been violated, you can talk to us – we will keep anything you tell us confidential. You can also contact the OCR with any questions at (800) 421-3481 or ocr@ed.gov.

I can’t find information on how to file a Title IX complaint.

We have a resource to help you file a Title IX complaint, but you may have other questions. We encourage you to talk to a lawyer or other trained expert.

My complaint involves incidents that occurred over 180 days ago.

Even if you missed the 180-day window, you can still submit your complaint. The complaint form will ask you why you did not submit in 180 days. The OCR may be more likely to consider your complaint in this case if you are submitting alongside other people who are within the 180-day window, and/or if you can provide evidence that the discrimination you faced is ongoing. Keep in mind that it is 180 days from the most recent action: sometimes students think “they have no case” when in fact the actions had been on-going for three years.

How do I submit a complaint involving multiple people?

If you are submitting a complaint alongside other people from your school, you have two choices:

  1. You can all submit separately
  2. You can have a point person submit on behalf of all of you

One person is allowed to file on behalf of a group. To do so, include the information about each person’s complaint in your description of the discrimination. Each person you are filing on behalf of will still need to sign and send in a consent form.

Can I submit both a Title IX complaint and a complaint to another agency, such as Clery?

Certainly. However, the OCR may choose not to handle your complaint if they believe the other agency’s resolution process will be comparable to the OCR’s. There is no limit on how much time has passed when submitting a Clery. As such, depending on the nature of your complaint, you may wish to attempt the Title IX process before going through a Clery complaint. We encourage you to complete the two as separate documents since the agencies reviewing each are different compliance branches.

I’m not comfortable using my name.

If you are submitting a complaint on your behalf, it must be signed and include your name and contact info to be considered. However, if someone else is submitting on your behalf, your name does not need to be included. In this case, the details of your situation will provide further support that an investigation is needed. But anonymity will limit the OCR’s ability to investigate your case and how the school handled it. When submitting with a group, the more complainants who include their names and fill out consent forms, the better.

Remember, include your name does not give the OCR the right to reveal that you are one of the complainants. Your information will remain confidential to the OCR.

Why might the OCR decide not to investigate my complaint?

The OCR lists a number of possible reasons that it might decide not to investigate your complaint. These include:

  • OCR does not have legal authority to investigate the complaint;
  • The complaint fails to state a violation of one of the laws OCR enforces;
  • The complaint was not filed timely and that a waiver will not be granted;
  • The complaint is unclear or incomplete and the complainant does not provide the information that OCR requests within 20 calendar days of OCR’s request;
  • The allegations raised by the complaint have been resolved;
  • The complaint has been investigated by another Federal, state, or local civil rights agency or through a recipient’s internal grievance procedures, including due process proceedings, and the resolution meets OCR regulatory standards or, if still pending, OCR anticipates that there will be a comparable resolution process under comparable legal standards;
  • The same allegations have been filed by the complainant against the same recipient in state or Federal court;
  • The allegations are foreclosed by previous decisions of the Federal courts, the U.S. Secretary of Education, the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Reviewing Authority, or OCR policy determinations.

Source: http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/complaints-how.html

How can I increase my chances that the OCR will investigate my complaint?

Be timely and submit your complaint within 180 days of the action. Submit alongside other people, to show that the discrimination is systematic and ongoing. The more details and more evidence of discrimination you provide, the better. Details and evidence will help the OCR in its investigation.

The OCR has decided to investigate my complaint. What’s the next step in the process?

The OCR will attempt to gather information. The OCR needs to find a preponderance of evidence suggesting the school has violated the law. While this investigation is ongoing, you and the school have the option, if all parties are willing to do so, to go through Early Complaint Resolution. Through this process, the OCR will facilitate settlement discussions. The OCR does not approve, endorse, sign or monitor any agreement reached through this process. However, if the school is not following the terms of the agreement, you may submit a further Title IX complaint. This must be submit within 180 days of the original discrimination or within 60 days of learning that the school has failed to comply with the agreement, whichever date comes later.

Your school also has the option to resolve the complaint early. If it chooses to do so, and the OCR accepts this, the school and the OCR will negotiate an agreement.

Since submitting my complaint, I’ve faced further discrimination and/or retaliation from my school. What can I do?

You can submit another Title IX complaint, outlining the discrimination your facing.

I am unhappy with the results of the OCR’s investigation. What options do I have?

You may appeal the OCR’s decision. To do so, send a written appeal, including supporting documentation, if you have any, to the Director of the Enforcement Office that investigated your complaint. Explain why or how you believe the evidence and information gathered by the OCR was insufficient or incomplete, how the factual analysis was incorrect and/or the appropriate legal standard was not applied, and how this would or should change the OCR’s decision.  The results of this appeal will represent the agency’s final decision; you cannot appeal further.

If you are unhappy with the appeal, you still have options, outlined under the next question.

The OCR has decided against investigating my complaint. What next?

Regardless of the OCR’s decision, you still have the option of going through other complaint processes. You may decide to file a federal court case – though if you do so while your OCR complaint is still under investigation, the OCR will not continue to investigate your complaint. Depending on the discrimination you faced, you may be able to file a Clery complaint; see our related resource guides. Your school may also have a complaint resolution process you can go through. If you are trying to figure out your next step, please feel free to contact us.

I am a K-12 student. Does Title IX have anything to do with me?

Absolutely: Title IX protects students at all levels of education. Much of our advice here will be relevant to your process, but our experience and the focus of this site is with college and university complaints. We encourage you to contact a lawyer or organization for more information about your complaint—check out our resource on finding a lawyer here.

–Miriam Hauser

Although these resources have been written with the guidance of legal experts, we are not lawyers, and the information on this website does not constitute legal advice. We encourage you to contact a lawyer to discuss your complaint or suit.