Universities and Other Educational Institutions Are Under Scrutiny for Title IX Violations

A year after the issuance of the Department of Education (“DOE”) Office of Civil Rights’ (“OCR”) April 4, 2011 “Dear Colleague Letter,” educational institutions are still scrambling to avoid being found in violation of Title IX. The Letter was in response to an increase in sexual discrimination and assault in the educational setting. It reminded institutions of their obligations under Title IX to prevent sexual assault, stop such assault once there is notice that it is occurring, and remedy the effects of any sexual assault. Any report of a potential Title IX violation could result in an OCR investigation that may lead to loss of federal funding from the Department of Education.

In April 2012, the OCR announced that it received a complaint filed earlier in the year by a female student at the University of Montana (“UM”).She alleged she was sexually abused and raped by members of UM’s football team. Earlier, in December 2011, three UM football student-athletes were accused of having drugged and sexually assaulted three female students. In response to the December 2011 report, UM hired former Montana Supreme Court Justice Diane Barz investigate. Barz discovered nine cases of alleged sexual assault on campus since September 2010. However, many of the reports made to UM were either not investigated by UM or were withdrawn by the complainant. Barz determined UM “has a problem of sexual assault on and off campus.”

The OCR has not yet announced whether it will launch a full-scale investigation of UM’s policies and procedures. While an OCR investigation is not unusual, a Department of Justice (“DOJ”) investigation would be. On May 1, 2012, the DOJ announced it will investigate how sexual assault cases are handled at UM. Not only will the DOJ investigate the University’s procedures, but it will also investigate the Missoula County Attorney’s Office, the Missoula Police Department, and the UM Office of Public Safety for alleged inappropriate handling of 80 reports of sexual assault on and off campus over the past three years. Should the DOE and the OCR decide to investigate UM, they likely will coordinate efforts with DOJ.