U-M Title IX Investigator: Recent court cases have “altered the landscape for sexual misconduct adjudications”

With April being , WeLoveAnnArbor’s Donna Iadipaolo interviewed Rebecca Leitman Veidlinger, who has a distinguished background in law, criminal justice and higher education. Leitman Veidlinger works as a lawyer and consultant who specializes in issues of sexual assault within the educational area. Institutions of higher education and k-12 districts across the country have used her expertise in relation to these issues. This semester, while also maintaining her law practice, Leitman Veidlinger taught a seminar on Title IX at the University of Michigan Law School.

1. First, thanks for taking the time to talk about what you do and the seriousness and importance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Can you describe what you do, including your recent duties with the University of Michigan?

“I am an attorney in private practice. I have my own firm which focuses on Title IX investigations and compliance. I taught in the UM Law School during the winter 2019 semester. This was my first semester teaching at the Law School. I previously worked for UM as a Title IX Investigator.”

2. How have you worked on Title IX issues with the Ann Arbor Public Schools? What do elementary and secondary schools need to be aware of with relation to Title IX issues?

“While I have not worked on Title IX issues with AAPS, K-12 schools need to keep in mind that they are subject to the same Department of Education guidance documents as higher education institutions. This is especially true as we are seeing more Title IX litigation at the K-12 level. Many K-12 schools handle sexual misconduct issues by either reporting the matter to the police or handling it informally within the school.  Neither of these approaches would satisfy a district’s Title IX obligations.”

Rebecca Leitman Veidlinger

3. What do colleges and universities generally need to keep in mind with Title IX issues?

“As a Title IX Investigator from 2013-2014, I investigated allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault, stalking and interpersonal violence occurring among students, staff and faculty. This is a very complicated and ever-changing area of the law, so it is hard to summarize. Some important things to keep in mind are that colleges and universities (along with K-12 school districts) must ensure that the individuals conducting investigations and handling sexual misconduct matters are highly-trained and well-versed in this field.  Most of the problems I have encountered result more from inadequately trained Title IX staff than from any intentional act. Institutions (and K-12 school districts) also need to be aware of the changes taking place with respect to what it means to be Title IX compliant and to have lawful sexual misconduct proceedings. We are seeing major court decisions that have altered the landscape for sexual misconduct adjudications, for example, and institutions are having to change their procedures as these decisions are handed down. If Secretary DeVos’s proposed regulations become final in their current form, we will see additional major changes to institutional obligations under Title IX.

4. What do students need to be aware about in terms of their own rights with Title IX?

“Students should be aware of the conduct that is prohibited by their school’s sexual misconduct policy. Students should be aware of how to report complaints of sexual misconduct. Students should be aware of support resources schools offer to individuals affected by sexual misconduct.”

5. Do Title IX issues connect to girls/women in education or are they relevant to boys/men as well?

“Title IX prohibits discrimination in educational programs on the basis of sex.  It applies equally to all sexes.”

6. Are educational institutions making progress with regard to Title IX issues?

“Over the course of the past eight years or so, we have seen huge progress in how institutions deal with Title IX, but of course we still have significant room for improvement.  Over that time, institutions implemented more detailed sexual misconduct policies and procedures, expanded Title IX staff, developed many more support resources for individuals affected by sexual misconduct, and developed extensive prevention programs. Many institutions still struggle with hiring and maintaining adequately-trained Title IX staff to do this work. Many institutions do not devote adequate funding to their Title IX offices. And, although we have seen the progress I just mentioned, different challenges have arisen when it comes to institutional compliance with Title IX and Due Process.”

7. How do Title IX issues connect with online learning?

“Title IX’s prohibition on sex discrimination applies to an institution’s online learning programs. Examples of how these issues arise:  a student receiving a lower grade because of their sex; a student who is sexually harassed or stalked over the online platform or in connection with the online program.”