This week, the United States Department of Education (DOE) announced a new Title IX enforcement initiative led by the DOE’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to combat the rise of sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual misconduct, and sexual violence incidents occurring in elementary and secondary (K-12) public schools involving both student-on-student and staff-on-student incidents.

OCR is an enforcement arm of the United States Department of Education which enforces a number of civil rights laws in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. “Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), 20 U.S.C §§ 1681 et seq., prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities operated by recipients of federal financial assistance. Title IX’s prohibition of discrimination includes sexual harassment and assault, which interferes with students’ rights to receive an education free from discrimination on the basis of sex.” [1]

The 12 OCR regional enforcement offices across the United States will conduct OCR initiated Compliance Reviews in schools and school districts which will include reviewing policies and practices around how sexual assault complaints and cases are reviewed and resolved at the K-12 level. OCR will also conduct data collection and reviews of data collection processes to ensure that school districts are accurately recording and reporting sexual assault incidents through the Civil Rights Data Collection system. Additionally, OCR intends to heighten public awareness of sexual assault in the K-12 school setting by making information readily available to school leadership, personnel, parents and families.

It is unclear how the proposed Title IX regulations (which have not yet been finalized) will impact Title IX enforcement in the K-12 school setting. However, Title IX should no longer be considered an issue reserved for college campuses. K-12 school districts and schools should review their existing policies and procedures regarding how to address, resolve and report sexual assault incidents at their schools. Here at Cohen Seglias, we stand ready to provide assistance with all of your Title IX needs.

[1] Secretary DeVos Announces New Civil Rights Initiative to Combat Sexual Assault in K-12 Public Schools

In November 2018, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) proposed new Title IX regulations concerning sexual harassment, including sexual assault, and received over 100,000 comments during the public comment period. As of today, the regulations have not been finalized. However, four congresspersons recently introduced legislation in the House of Representatives that would prohibit implementation of the proposed Title IX regulations.

The bill, H.R. 5388, introduced by Representative Elissa Slotkin and co-sponsored by Representatives Ayanna Pressley, Jackie Speier, and Annie Kuster, provides that “the Secretary of Education may not issue or enforce certain rules that weaken the enforcement of the prohibition of sex discrimination applicable under Title IX.” Specifically, the bill states that the Secretary of Education may not (1) take any action to implement, enforce, and/or give effect to the proposed regulations, or (2) propose or issue any rule or guidance that is substantially the same as the proposed regulations. Rep. Slotkin’s press release states that the new regulations “could have a chilling effect on students’ willingness to come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct and would be a detriment to survivors and to students in general and the academic institutions they attend.”

The bill has been assigned to the Committee on Education and Labor. However, there is no way to know whether the Committee will proceed to review the bill, and if so, when it would be reviewed and/or released. Therefore, it remains to be seen whether the bill will affect the imminent release of the proposed regulations.

While there is no actual date as to when the regulations will be finalized and released, there are indications that it may be in the next few months. In early November of 2019, the DOE sent a finalized version of the proposed regulations to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which reviews all regulations. Further, there are meetings scheduled in the OMB on the regulations throughout February of 2020, indicating that the regulations are in “Final Rule Stage.”

Here at Cohen Seglias, we continue to monitor the progress of the proposed regulations. In the meantime, educational institutions should prepare to review their policies in order to be compliant with the potential new regulations.

Fall is here and in full swing! Many of us thought that as we sipped hot apple cider and watched the leaves on the trees change color, we would also be mulling over the new regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Education. Betsy DeVos’ timetable is clearly not ours. While we wait for the regulations to be issued, let us look at our current Title IX investigations and what we can do to improve them. Here they are—the top ten pitfalls of Title IX investigations and how to avoid them:

Continue Reading Top Ten Pitfalls of Title IX Investigations and How to Avoid Them

Cohen Seglias Summer Associate Alexandra M. Aversa also contributed to this article.

On July 8, 2019, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed two campus safety initiatives into law to combat sexual violence and increase campus safety at Pennsylvania colleges and universities. The two initiatives are a part of Act 16 of 2019 (HB 1615), an omnibus education bill that was signed into law on June 28, 2019.

Governor Wolf said that this new law was the first of its kind in the nation. Act 16 takes effect in June 2020 and has two main requirements.  Continue Reading PA Colleges and Universities Must Implement Online Anonymous Reporting System and Adopt Victims Bills of Rights Policy under New Law

This article originally appeared in The Legal Intelligencer on January 9, 2019.

The Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (UTPCPL), 73 P.S. Section 201-1 et seq., and the Administrative Code of 1929, specifically 71 P.S. Section 307-3, vest the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General (OAG) with the power to investigate “unfair methods of competition” and “unfair or deceptive acts or practices” by companies doing business in Pennsylvania. The statutory definition of these phrases is quite lengthy, consisting of 21 separate, prohibited acts ranging from deceptive advertising and pyramid schemes to unlawful telephone solicitations and excessive shipping delays. But this catch-all definition perhaps best sums up the essence of what conduct is prohibited under the UTPCPL: “Fraudulent or deceptive conduct which creates a likelihood of confusion or of misunderstanding.” Penalties for violating the UTPCPL include what you would expect—civil penalties and the payment of costs and restitution. But these penalties often pale in comparison to the Attorney General’s power to petition for injunctive relief and forfeiture of the right to do business in Pennsylvania if the investigation is mishandled.  Continue Reading Tips for Representing Clients in OAG Consumer Protection Investigations

As expected, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) recently released proposed Title IX regulations, specifically concerning sexual harassment, including sexual assault. This is significant because the DOE has never addressed these issues through regulation. In the past, guidance has only been available through informal resources, such as the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter and the 2014 Guidance/Q&A. As discussed in previous blog posts, these new regulations, if adopted, would constitute a substantial departure from prior guidance.  Continue Reading Changes Ahead: Department of Education Proposes Revisions to Title IX Regulations

I’m a management-side employment lawyer. It’s my job to go to court and defend employers and executives accused of all different types of misconduct, including sexual harassment. Over the last 20 years, I have seen it all. Some of my cases involve relatively tame allegations, like telling dirty jokes around the watercooler. And I have also been involved with cases involving extremely serious accusations, including indecent exposure, unwanted touching, and sexual assault. I spent a fair amount of time watching the Kavanaugh hearings. Like everyone else I know, I have a strong opinion on whether or not the nomination should be approved, but I did not write this article to share my personal opinions. There are enough political commentators on cable news shows doing that already. From an employment litigation and human resources perspective, there are several important lessons to be learned. Continue Reading Lessons from the Kavanaugh Hearing

In litigation, claims are subject to statutes of limitations. Because the passage of time can affect such things as witness memory and evidence preservation, states pass statutes of limitations providing that claims cannot be brought after the expiration of a certain number of years after a claim arises. While the statutes of limitations vary from state to state and from claim to claim, limitation periods of one, two, or three years are common. Although there are special rules that may delay or otherwise alter the date on which a limitations period begins, once the period expires, a claim cannot be brought. Continue Reading The “Limitations Period” in Research Misconduct Cases: What You Need to Know

This article originally appeared in The Legal Intelligencer on August 01, 2017

IN-HOUSE COUNSEL

I have never met an attorney who did not believe that he was perfectly capable of drafting legislation. This confidence may come from a mastery of the case law governing the subject matter of the ­proposed legislation. Or perhaps it derives from the attorney’s previous struggles with the ambiguities of a statutory scheme in the course of representing a client. Maybe it is simply because as lawyers we are trained from our earliest days in law school how to read, interpret and apply statutes to the most twisted set of facts our professors could come up with. Whatever the reason, we lawyers are a confident bunch when it comes to legislative drafting.  Continue Reading Five Tips for Successfully Drafting Pa. Legislation