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OCR: Office for Civil Rights
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Dear Colleague Letter

OFFICE OF THE ASSISTANT SECRETARY



Page 11

Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.26 OCR also uses a preponderance of the evidence standard when it resolves complaints against recipients. For instance, OCR’s Case Processing Manual requires that a noncompliance determination be supported by the preponderance of the evidence when resolving allegations of discrimination under all the statutes enforced by OCR, including Title IX.27 OCR also uses a preponderance of the evidence standard in its fund termination administrative hearings.28 Thus, in order for a school’s grievance procedures to be consistent with Title IX standards, the school must use a preponderance of the evidence standard (i.e., it is more likely than not that sexual harassment or violence occurred). The “clear and convincing” standard (i.e., it is highly probable or reasonably certain that the sexual harassment or violence occurred), currently used by some schools, is a higher standard of proof. Grievance procedures that use this higher standard are inconsistent with the standard of proof established for violations of the civil rights laws, and are thus not equitable under Title IX. Therefore, preponderance of the evidence is the appropriate standard for investigating allegations of sexual harassment or violence.

Throughout a school’s Title IX investigation, including at any hearing, the parties must have an equal opportunity to present relevant witnesses and other evidence. The complainant and the alleged perpetrator must be afforded similar and timely access to any information that will be used at the hearing.29 For example, a school should not conduct a pre-hearing meeting during which only the alleged perpetrator is present and given an opportunity to present his or her side of the story, unless a similar meeting takes place with the complainant; a hearing officer or disciplinary board should not allow only the alleged perpetrator to present character witnesses at a hearing; and a school should not allow the alleged perpetrator to review the complainant’s

26 See, e.g., Desert Palace, Inc. v. Costa,539 U.S. 90, 99 (2003) (noting that under the “conventional rule of civil litigation,” the preponderance of the evidence standard generally applies in cases under Title VII); Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins,490 U.S. 228, 252-55 (1989) (approving preponderance standard in Title VII sex discrimination case) (plurality opinion); id. at 260 (White, J., concurring in the judgment); id. at 261 (O’Connor, J., concurring in the judgment). The 2001 Guidance noted (on page vi) that “[w]hile Gebser and Davis made clear that Title VII agency principles do not apply in determining liability for money damages under Title IX, the Davis Court also indicated, through its specific references to Title VII caselaw, that Title VII remains relevant in determining what constitutes hostile environment sexual harassment under Title IX.” See also Jennings v. Univ. of N.C., 482 F.3d 686, 695 (4th Cir. 2007) (“We look to case law interpreting Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for guidance in evaluating a claim brought under Title IX.”).
27 OCR’s Case Processing Manual is available on the Department’s Web site, at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/ocrcpm.html.
28 The Title IX regulations adopt the procedural provisions applicable to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. See 34 C.F.R. § 106.71 (“The procedural provisions applicable to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are hereby adopted and incorporated herein by reference.”). The Title VI regulations apply the Administrative Procedure Act to administrative hearings required prior to termination of Federal financial assistance and require that termination decisions be “supported by and in accordance with the reliable, probative and substantial evidence.” 5 U.S.C. § 556(d). The Supreme Court has interpreted “reliable, probative and substantial evidence” as a direction to use the preponderance standard. See Steadman v. SEC, 450 U.S. 91, 98-102 (1981).
29 Access to this information must be provided consistent with FERPA. For example, if a school introduces an alleged perpetrator’s prior disciplinary records to support a tougher disciplinary penalty, the complainant would not be allowed access to those records. Additionally, access should not be given to privileged or confidential information. For example, the alleged perpetrator should not be given access to communications between the complainant and a counselor or information regarding the complainant’s sexual history.


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Last Modified: 04/03/2011