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Resolution of Title IX Complaint Against Harvard Law School Will Help Schools Understand How to Properly Address Harassment

As 2014 drew to a close, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued its resolution of a complaint against Harvard Law School (HLS) for failing to properly address sexual harassment and assault. The resolution is comprehensive and reflects OCR’s work to vigorously enforce Title IX in our nation’s schools.

Specifically, OCR found that HLS failed to respond appropriately to two specific complaints of sexual assault, noting significant delays between the filing of one complaint and its resolution and the exclusion of the complainant from an appeal that resulted in a reversal of the decision to dismiss the alleged assailant. It also found that the law school failed to train all decision makers to meet the requirements of Title IX and that its Title IX policies and procedures did not comply with Title IX’s requirements for prompt and equitable resolution of complaints.

Among other things, the resolution agreement that Harvard entered into with OCR requires the following:

  • HLS must conduct an annual school climate assessment (using a survey tool approved by OCR), to obtain feedback regarding incidents of, attitudes toward, and effectiveness of responses to sexual assault and sexual violence.
  • HLS must revise all applicable sexual harassment policies and procedures to comply with Title IX and provide clear notice of which policy and procedure applies to law school complaints.
  • HLS must train staff and provide information sessions for students on the policies and procedures applicable to Law School complaints.
  • HLS must notify students and employees about the Law School’s Title IX coordinators and their contact information.
  • HLS must take appropriate interim steps to provide for the safety of the complainant and campus community during an investigation.
  • HLS and its university police department must share information and HLS must inform students of their right to file a Title IX complaint with the law school as well as their right to file criminal charges.
  • HLS must review complaints of sexual harassment filed during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years to determine whether the complaints were investigated consistent with Title IX and provide any additional remedies necessary for the complainants.

All schools from the elementary and secondary level on up would be wise to read the Harvard Law School Letter of Findings and Resolution Agreement, as well as the many OCR guidance documents on the subject, to make sure their own houses are in order. Sexual harassment and assault is a serious problem plaguing our nation’s schools, and schools must follow the law to do what’s best for their students.