Title IX and Defamation: An Emerging Challenge Facing Higher-Education Institutions

Equal Opportunity, title IX

There is currently a national focus on gender-based harassment. College campuses are no different. Even with the changes to Title IX guidance in the past months,1 eliminating sexual harassment and assault on campuses remains a national priority. One overlooked result of this focus is defamation litigation facing higher-education institutions.

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Students found to have violated university sexual harassment and sexual misconduct policies are fighting back in the courts. According to a 2015 study by United Educators (a large national insurance provider for colleges and universities), approximately 60% of Title IX-related lawsuits are brought by respondents (those accused of sexual misconduct).2 Respondents are asserting defamation claims against the individual who accused them as well as the university that disciplined them. The idea is that statements made by the accuser, through the course of a campus sexual assault investigation, are defamatory if the statements can be shown to be false. It has been reported that 72% of accused students who file a Title IX-related lawsuit against their university also sue their individual accuser for defamation.  For the full article, click here… 

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Illinois federal court rules—again—that “a school policy that subjects a transgender student to different rules, sanctions, and treatment than non-transgender students violates Title IX”

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Arizona Fires Rich Rodriguez; Former Employee Claims Sexual Harassment, Files Intent To Sue

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Arizona fired Rich Rodriguez as head football coach tonight after a former athletics department employee accused him of sexual harassment; a university investigation into those accusations found “information” that led the department to be “concerned,” according to a statement from the university.

Per the university, the investigation was closed last week after specific harassment claims could not be proven with the given evidence. “However, Arizona Athletics did become aware of information, both before and during the investigation, which caused it to be concerned with the direction and climate of the football program,” the statement goes on to say.

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The former employee who accused Rodriguez has filed a notice of claim with the state, saying she intends to sue the university. The Arizona Daily Star has an excerpt of that document:

The notice of claim alleges, among other things, that Rodriguez and his closest aides followed a “hideaway book” that detailed such sayings as “Title IX doesn’t exist in our office.” Those who had the most interaction with Rodriguez — the former employee and two assistant coaches — referred to themselves as the “Triangle of Secrecy,” according to the claim. The three were charged with lying to Rodriguez’s wife on his behalf, according to the claim.

Rodriguez reportedly was fired without cause and the original terms of his contract will be honored, meaning that he should receive his full $6.3 million buyout. The full statement from the university is below.

Arizona made the announcement shortly after USA Today published a story saying that the university was considering firing Rodriguez following the workplace misconduct investigation and the team’s 0-3 finish to end the season.

Update (11:31 p.m. ET): Rodriguez has posted a statement of his own. He mentions some details that were not present in the university’s statement, including that the employee who filed the allegations was his former administrative assistant and that the potential lawsuit was for $7.5 million.

He calls her claims “baseless and false” and says that the university “determined that there was no truth to any of her accusations and found me innocent of any wrongdoing.” That’s markedly different from the language the university used to describe the investigation’s conclusion, which was that “the specific harassment allegations could not be substantiated based on the evidence and witnesses available to it.”

 

Title IX complainant wants to clarify CU Boulder statement about resolution of her case

title IX

The woman whose recently concluded Title IX complaint against the University of Colorado prompted a yearslong investigation wanted to clarify a statement CU sent out to the Boulder community following the investigation’s end.

“The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has informed the University of Colorado Boulder that it has closed its systemic Title IX review of the campus with no adverse findings related to its 2013 handling of a sexual misconduct case brought forward by a former student,” CU posted online last week when Chancellor Phil DiStefano received a letter from the OCR ending its investigation.

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Former CU student Sarah Gilchriese found a disconnect between CU framing the message as “no adverse findings” related to her specific Title IX case when OCR, instead, focused on the improvements made because of her case in their resolution.  For more, click here..

Alumna sues the University of Miami for Title IX violations

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A University of Miami alumna is suing the university for its “deliberate indifference” toward her being raped, stalked and physically assaulted during the first three weeks of her junior year.

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The student, identified only as Jane Doe in the lawsuit, said the administration failed to protect her from her assailant when he harassed and stalked her nine to 10 times between September and December 2013. Furthermore, the plaintiff said former Dean William “Tony” Lake told her she should drop the rape allegations and “feel bad” for her assailant because “he did not have many friends,” and that perhaps he had penetrated her with his fingers and not his penis and that “this was not rape.”  These and other claims fill the 21-page lawsuit filed against UM on Sept. 15 for mishandling complaints of sexual assault and harassment and for allegedly violating the plaintiff’s rights under Title IX, the amendment prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender.

For more, click here…

Equal Opportunity, Diversity and Eminent Domain erupt in Massachusetts

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A standoff is brewing in Brookline over town officials’ surprise announcement that they may seize 7 acres of Pine Manor College’s front lawn by eminent domain to build an elementary school.

Pine Manor president Tom O’Reilly said he was shocked to receive a phone call this week from the town’s top official, who told him Brookline might take part of his campus.  For more, click here …