Education Dept.: Harvard Law School’s Response to Sex Assaults Violated Title IX

By Chris Staiti | December 31, 2014

Harvard Law School was found in violation of Title IX, the law that prohibits gender discrimination in education, for its failure to respond adequately to sexual assault reports, the Education Department said.

The law school agreed to amend its policies for addressing sexual assault reports after it didn’t respond appropriately to two student complaints, including taking too long to review one of the cases, the department’s Office for Civil Rights said Tuesday in a statement. The changes will help the law school comply with Title IX’s requirements for a “prompt and equitable response” to reports of sexual assault and harassment, the department said.

Under a resolution agreement, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based school will revise its policies, share information with Harvard University and campus police and notify students of their right to pursue criminal charges as well as filing Title IX complaints with the law school.

“Harvard University and Harvard Law School are deeply committed to fostering a campus climate that is free of sexual harassment, including sexual violence,” the university said Tuesday in a statement. “This voluntary resolution agreement approves and enshrines many of the proactive changes Harvard has made in recent years.”

Harvard Law also agreed to use the “preponderance of evidence” standard in adjudicating sexual assault cases, meaning that an incident is more likely than not to have occurred. It had been using the tougher “clear and convincing evidence” standard in campus tribunals.

The Harvard 28

In October, a group of 28 current and retired Harvard Law professors condemned the university’s new sexual misconduct policy, which is based on OCR’s guidelines, saying it “departs dramatically” from current law.

In an open letter published by the Boston Globe, the professors said the new procedures “lack the most basic elements of fairness and due process, are overwhelmingly stacked against the accused and are in no way required by Title IX law.”

The faculty members, including emeritus professor Alan Dershowitz, said the policy should be retracted because it denies the accused access to legal counsel, knowledge of the accusations against them and the right to question witnesses. It also holds one party more culpable when both are impaired by drug or alcohol use.

The OCR started its inquiry of the law school in 2010. A separate investigation of Harvard College began this year after a student group filed a complaint saying that students who reported sexual assault weren’t given housing and classroom accommodation that would keep them apart from their alleged assailants.

“I am very pleased to bring to close one of our longest- running sexual violence investigations, and I congratulate Harvard Law School for now committing to comply with Title IX,” Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights, said in Tuesday’s statement.

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