Can the Title IX complaint go public?

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Members of the Yale community seeking specifics of the Title IX complaint filed against the University may face a long — or possibly interminable — wait.

Last week, a group of 16 student and alumni complainants announced that the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights will investigate whether Yale has allowed a hostile sexual environment to persist on campus. But as of Monday, Yale’s Office of the Vice President and General Counsel has yet to receive many details about the complaint from the OCR, and according to legal experts interviewed, several legal obstacles could prevent Yale administrators from acquiring all available information.

When asked what Yale knew about the complaint Monday, University Vice President and General Counsel Dorothy Robinson said the OCR had shared little with the University.

“Actually, the department gave us very little information — only that they intend to begin an investigation of a complaint filed by a group of current and former students on Title IX compliance,” she said, adding that receiving information regarding the complainants’ motives was not necessarily relevant to her office.

Robinson said the Office of the Vice President and General Counsel will request to obtain a copy of the complaint under the Freedom of Information Act — a federal law which allows access to government documents. If the request is approved, she added, the government will provide Yale with a copy of the complaint that does not contain names and personal identifiers.

It is unclear whether Yale’s attempts to procure the complaint will even be successful, said Kristen Galles, a Virginia-based Title IX lawyer who has been litigating Title IX cases since 1993.

Based on precedent, Galles said, FOIA requests for Title IX complaints are usually denied to protect the privacy of any victims of sexual misconduct who may act as cosignatories. Even if Yale receives a copy of the report, she added, the University cannot disclose it to the public without the complainants’ permission.

“Retaliation is very rampant in any school you go to,” Galles said of the privacy protections. “It must have been pretty bad [at Yale] if it got to the OCR.”

Complainant Alexandra Brodsky ’12 said the contents of the Title IX complaint — which alleges that Yale violated the federal law requiring educational institutions to provide equal access to men and women — are not relevant to administrators. Divulging details of testimonials of sexual misconduct listed in the complaint would constitute a violation of confidentiality, Brodsky added.

All told, she said, the purpose of the complaint was to provide evidence to the OCR that an investigation was needed.

“The complaint will not be the basis of the changes that will happen,” she said. “It’s us pointing at a fire and saying, ‘Bring your fire truck.’”

Yale College Dean Mary Miller said Monday that she cannot respond to issues raised by the cosignatories until she reviews the “full text” of the Title IX complaint. Even then, Miller said, the Office of the Vice President and General Counsel may be the only administrative department fit to comment. University President Richard Levin could not be reached for comment Monday night, and declined to comment on the complaint Sunday since he had not been on campus over the weekend.

Both Miller and Michael Gregory, an expert on education law at Harvard Law School, said that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) — which prohibits a school from divulging information from a student’s record without the consent of the student — could prevent the public from seeing the complaint in full.

In contrast to the wait the University may face in procuring a copy of the Title IX complaint, the 16 complainants waited only two weeks between filing with the federal government on March 15 and learning of the OCR’s decision to investigate March 31.

Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali said there is “no right answer” when asking how the OCR evaluates complaints, adding that the Yale complainants’ two-week waiting period was not abnormally short.

Later this week, Robinson said, administrators expect to receive formal notification of the investigation from the OCR.

Schools that are found in violation of Title IX risk losing their federal funding if they decline to comply with the law. Yale received $510.4 million in federal funding for research and training in 2009-’10, according to the University’s financial report for that fiscal year.

Comments

  • pickle

    Yale has allowed a hostile sexual environment to persist in New Haven.

  • tonykez

    This is not about sexual harassment. This kind of nonsense, immature, ignorance acts happens in every university, every second of our life. In my opinion, it is about egos, revenge, “saving faces”, and “over protecting” ignorance and immature students. However, the administration needs to act quickly and swiftly to deal with the issues! Administration needs to set a “zero tolerance” sexual harassment policy, regardless of the student’s legacy. Act quickly!

  • Skeptic

    @pickle… Yale has a hard time even getting New Haven to paint traffic crosswalks on the city streets.. Do you really think Yale can “allow” or not allow anything about the sexual environment in New Haven?

  • The Anti-Yale

    I thought one had the right to know one’s accuser and what the accusations are. I also thought that evidence in a trial had to be shared between attorneys, not concealed. Granted, this is not a legal proceding. Yet.

  • pickle

    To imply that as a townsperson I am unaffected by the behavior of the students at Yale is ludicrous.

  • Yale12

    Maybe you should focus on the behavior of your fellow townspeople. You know, the gang violence, shootings, robberies, that kind of thing?

  • charlesgyer

    @Yale12

    They already took care of the robberies and shootings by stopping Yale’s underage drinking with operation nightlife!

  • The Anti-Yale

    “This is not about sexual harassment. This kind of nonsense, immature, ignorance acts happens in every university, every second of our life.”

    WRONG. This kind of immature nonsense DOES NOT OCCUR among woment undergraduates. When did last group of sorority pledges parade around campus chanting imagery of women penetrating the anuses of men?

    Get real.

  • River Tam

    > When did last group of sorority pledges parade around campus chanting imagery of women penetrating the anuses of men?

    Who was the last male Yalie to consider fetal matter art?

  • HighStreet2010

    And there were no women present at the pundits party, where sexual assault did (allegedly) occur. It was all frat boys. Really?

    And here I thought the problem was sexual assault and the University’s handling of it- didn’t know that “immature nonsense” required federal intervention.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Art is one step up from trash, which is where the fetal matter from abortions winds up.

    The DKE parade never claimed to be Art.

    Ms. Schvartz’ put the abortion proponents in a corner. Defend THIS!

  • Tully

    “It must have been pretty bad [at Yale] if it got to the OCR.”

    It’s statements such as this, which assume the truth of unproven allegations, that make me worry what this quasi-legal complaint will do to Yale’s reputation–it would be extremely counter-productive, say, if the female student body declined. YDN, can you go interview some law professors and get some hard data on the standard of proof required to initiate an investigation, the nature of the investigatory procedure, and the percentages of success/failure of complaints (the complaint in the 70s was dismissed)? The irony to me is that the complainants would probably insist on the highest procedural safeguards in the case of an indigent or minority criminal defendant.