Proposed Title IX changes could lead to uptick in suits by students accused of campus sexual misconduct
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The Biden administration is proposing changes in regulations governing universities’ handling of sexual misconduct claims that could result in more lawsuits by accused students alleging a lack of due process.
The proposed changes to regulations implementing Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 are intended to provide more discretion to schools receiving federal funds, according to a summary by the U.S. Department of Education. Complaints could be more quickly resolved if changes are adopted, and students may be more willing to make complaints.
But some observers told Law.com that they are concerned that the department is rolling back due-process protections in regulations that interpret Title IX’s ban on sex discrimination.
The proposed changes would rescind final regulations enacted by former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in 2020 that required live hearings with cross-examination. DeVos’ regulations banned a single-investigator model in which a single person looks at the facts and makes a decision, Higher Ed Dive reports.
Among those criticizing the proposed changes is K.C. Johnson, a professor at Brooklyn College in New York, who commented to Law.com in an email. He said eliminating the right to a live hearing “will allow colleges and universities to return to a system in which the accused student would neither see nor hear the witness testimony against him but instead would have to rely on written summaries of that evidence prepared by the person who simultaneously did the investigation and made the final decision.”
Some federal appeals courts require live hearings at public universities, Johnson said. But in circuits in which the issue is unsettled, “I’d expect a wave of litigation against universities,” he told Law.com.
The University of Michigan revised its sexual misconduct procedures based on a September 2018 decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Cincinnati, the University Record reported at the time. The 6th Circuit ruled that public universities must give students accused of sexual misconduct in-person hearings with the right of cross-examination, in cases when credibility is at issue.