Northwest College

Understanding Title IX and Sexual Misconduct

OCR Role in Title IX

Office for Civil Rights

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforces Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. To ensure institutions that receive federal financial assistance comply with the law, the OCR evaluates, investigates, and resolves Title IX Complaints (United States Department of Education, 2015).

If Northwest College's Title IX Coordinator has been contacted and the Title IX case has not been resolved to the satisfaction of one or more parties involved in the case, then an option could be to contact the Office for Civil Rights. 

Filing a Title IX Complaint with the Office for Civil Rights

Anyone who believes there has been an act of discrimination on the basis of sex against any person or group in a program or activity receiving federal financial assistance may file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

The person or organization filing a Title IX complaint need not be a victim of the alleged discrimination but may complain on behalf of another person or group.

When to File

The complaint must be filed within 180 calendar day of the date of the alleged discrimination, unless the time for filing is extended by OCR for good cause. Applying for a waiver may lead to an extension.  

A potential complainant may want to find out about the institution’s grievance process and use that process to have the complaint resolved. However, the complainant does NOT have to use that process before filing with the OCR.

If a complainant uses an institutional grievance process and also chooses to file the complaint with OCR, the complaint must be filed with OCR within 60 days after completion of the institutional grievance process (Office for Civil Rights, 2016).

Ways to File a Complaint

A complaint can be filed via online, mail, or email.

Online:

You may file a complaint with OCR using OCR’s electronic complaint form 

Mail:

You may mail your complaint to the following address. The Wyoming OCR Office is located in Denver:

     Denver Office
     Office for Civil Rights
     U.S. Department of Education
     Cesar E. Chavez Memorial Building
     1244 Speer Boulevard, Suite 310
     Denver, CO 80204-3582 (Office for Civil Rights, 2016)

If you write and mail your own letter of complaint, the OCR recommends you include the following information:

  • The complainant’s name, address and, if possible (although not required), a telephone number where the complainant may be reached during business hours;
  • information about the person(s) or class of persons injured by the alleged discriminatory act(s) (names of the injured person(s) are not required);
  • The name and location (city and state) of the institution that committed the alleged discriminatory act(s); and
  • A description of the alleged discriminatory act(s) in sufficient detail to enable OCR to understand what occurred, when it occurred, and the basis for the alleged discrimination (Office for Civil Rights, 2016).
Email: 

You may email OCR’s Discrimination Complaint Form or your own signed letter to ocr@ed.gov. If you write your own letter, include the information identified above (Office for Civil Rights, 2016).

Formalities of a Complaint:

Complaint letters should explain who was discriminated against, in what way, by whom or by what institution or agency, when the discrimination took place, who was harmed, who can be contacted for further information, and as much background information as possible about the alleged discriminatory acts.

As the Know Your IX site explains, complaints should be written using formal language. Instead of writing a narrative, write an outline and describe each discriminatory action separately. Use as many specifics as you can.

Whether filed online or by mail, the complainant needs to sign and mail a consent form to allow the OCR to process the complaint (KnowYourIX). The consent form can be found on page six of the Discrimination Complaint Form.

After Filing:

If an investigation indicates there has been a violation of Title IX, OCR attempts to obtain voluntary compliance and will negotiate remedies.

When the OCR cannot obtain voluntary compliance, it will initiate enforcement action to terminate federal funding to a program or activity in which the prohibited discrimination occurred. Terminations are made only after the recipient has had an opportunity for a hearing before an administrative law judge and after all other appeals have been exhausted (KnowYourIX).

Title IX and Clery:

You can file a complaint with both Title IX and Clery Act. You must file them separately, though.

The Title IX complaint goes through the OCR (Office for Civil Rights), and Clery Act goes through the Department of Education, handled by the Case Management Team in the appropriate regional office.

To make a Clery complaint, you can call it in, mail it, or email it.

Call:

You can call 1-800-1-FED-AID to lodge your Clery complaint.

Mail:

Clery complaints should be sent to the regional Department of Education office that has jurisdiction over your college/university. 

E-mail: 

To file a Clery complaint by email, send a message to the regional office (see above) and to clerycomplaints@ed.gov

Time-line:

Complaints can take anywhere from a month to a year to receive initial confirmation. Once a person receives confirmation, the person will follow up with the investigators assigned to the case. The OCR is a neutral fact-finder; it does not take sides (KnowYourIX).

Reasons Why the OCR May Dismiss a Complaint:

  • OCR does not have legal authority to investigate the complaint;
  • The complaint fails to state a violation of one of the laws OCR enforces;
  • The complaint was not filed timely and that a waiver will not be granted;
  • The complaint is unclear or incomplete and the complainant does not provide the information that OCR requests within 20 calendar days of OCR’s request;
  • The allegations raised by the complaint have been resolved;
  • The complaint has been investigated by another Federal, state, or local civil rights agency or through a recipient’s internal grievance procedures, including due process proceedings, and the resolution meets OCR regulatory standards or, if still pending, OCR anticipates that there will be a comparable resolution process under comparable legal standards;
  • The same allegations have been filed by the complainant against the same recipient in state or Federal court;
  • The allegations are foreclosed by previous decisions of the Federal courts, the U.S. Secretary of Education, the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Reviewing Authority, or OCR policy determinations (Office for Civil Rights).
     

If the ORC Determines It Will Investigate:

The OCR will issue letters of notification to the complainant (person who filed the complaint) and the recipient (the school).

Use of fact-finding techniques

OCR may review documentary evidence submitted by both parties, conduct interviews with the complainant, recipient’s personnel, and other witnesses, and/or visit sites.

The OCR will determine if:

  1. There is insufficient evidence to support a conclusion that a recipient (school) failed to comply with the law OR
  2. A preponderance of the evidence supports a conclusion that the recipient (school) failed to comply with the law (Office for Civil Rights).

Early Complaint Resolution:

Early Complaint Resolution allows the parties an opportunity to resolve the complaint allegations quickly, meaning soon after the complaint has been opened for investigation. If both parties are willing, OCR will facilitate settlement discussions between the parties and work with the parties to help them understand the legal standards and possible remedies.

OCR does not approve, sign, or endorse any agreement reached between the parties as a result of the Early Complaint Resolution. The OCR does not monitor the agreement. However, if the recipient (school) does not comply with the terms of the agreement, the complainant may file another complaint with OCR within 180 days of the date of the original discrimination or within 60 days of the date the complainant learns of the failure to comply with the agreement (Office for Civil Rights).

Resolution of a Complaint Prior to Conclusion of an Investigation

A complaint may also be resolved before the conclusion of an investigation, if the recipient (school) expresses an interest in resolving the complaint. The OCR will attempt to negotiate an agreement with the recipient. A resolution agreement reached before the conclusion of an investigation will be monitored by OCR (Office for Civil Rights).

Appeals Process:

The OCR affords the opportunity to the complainant to submit an appeal of OCR’s letter finding insufficient evidence of a violation. The appeals process provides the change for complainants to bring information to OCR’s attention that would change OCR’s decision.

If the complainant disagrees with OCR’s decision, he or she may send a written appeal to the Director of the Enforcement Office that issued the determination. If the complainant has documentation to support the appeal, that documentation must be submitted, too.

An appeal must be submitted within 60 days of the date of the determination letter.

If a person is dissatisfied with a resolution agreement, he/she may still pursue a lawsuit (Office for Civil Rights).

Retaliation:

According to Know Your IX, retaliation occurs when a school intimidates, threatens, coerces, or in any way discriminates against an individual who has brought a concern or reported a possible violation of a federal civil right.

The OCR has warned schools about retaliation. If you report a possible violation of a civil right, then you are automatically protected against retaliation. Even if the initial report is not ruled as a violation of a civil right, you still cannot be retaliated against (Know Your IX).

Important note:

Only the school’s conduct toward an individual qualifies as retaliation. This could include retaliation by administration, faculty, or other employees. So if you are being harassed, threatened, or intimidated by other parties, such as other students, it does not qualify as retaliation. However, it may be the basis of a Title IX complaint due to creating a hostile environment (Know Your IX).

If you’re experiencing retaliation:

Immediately start collecting documents and recording events that indicate retaliation. Records should include the date, time, parties involved, and the matters discussed. Consider calling your school’s Title IX Coordinator and informing him/her of the situation. The Coordinator may be willing to remedy the situation in order to insulate the school from further liability.

You can also contact the OCR, which will take action against schools that retaliate (Know Your IX).

Resources:

For more information, check out the following sites: