Mercedes Colwin and Benjamin A. Levine of the New York office collaborated on an article published in Law360 on September 11 titled "College Athletics Puts Title IX in the Spotlight." The article discusses the ever increasing frequency of Title IX claims against universities, and the steps schools should take to protect themselves from increased litigation and negative press.
The most high profile Title IX cases involve sexual assault allegations in regards to members of college sports programs. Levine references a notable example of Title IX and college athletics colliding when Heisman Trophy winner and top pick of the 2015 NFL draft Jameis Winston successfully won his Title IX hearing at Florida State University in December 2014.
As of April 2015, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights was investigating 106 colleges and universities due to concerns that these schools may have violated Title IX in mishandling sexual assault accusations. Title IX is a federal law enacted in 1972 designed to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. Any school receiving federal funds must comply with Title IX or risk losing its funding.
The article sets forth steps institutions of higher learning can take to protect themselves from Title IX lawsuits, including:
Ensure a university’s sexual assault policy complies with Title IX regulations (as well as other federal regulations including the Clery Act and The Violence Against Women Act). Concepts of consent and confidentiality should be clearly defined in any policy.
Create a grievance procedure with an independent fact finder (as FSU did in the Winston matter) which ensures a fair proceeding for both the accused and the accuser. A preponderance of the evidence standard of proof should be established in the university’s sexual assault policy and properly communicated to the student body. A preponderance of the evidence standard is the most equitable standard of proof as it is the same standard of proof used in a civil hearing and should withstand scrutiny in subsequent litigation.
In addition to employing chief Title IX coordinator, universities with prominent athletic programs should appoint a secondary Title IX coordinator housed in the department of athletics.
Provide mandatory educational programming regarding sexual assault and consent to all students.
For a complete copy of the article click here
Mercedes Colwin, managing partner of Gordon & Rees’s New York office, is a leading U.S. trial lawyer with 48 cases successfully tried to verdict. She is a legal analyst on the Fox News Network, where she regularly appears on legal issues involving high-profile matters. Colwin has represented numerous schools and universities, including NYU, in Title IX cases involving race and gender discrimination. Colwin is a frequent panelist for the University Risk Management Insurance Association where she discusses employment litigation issues. She represents corporate executives and Fortune 500 clients who rely on her and her team of attorneys and experts to handle high-stakes legal matters, including allegations of sexual misconduct and rape. Colwin has received numerous national recognitions, including Notre Dame Law School’s prestigious Graciela Olivarez Award, and she was named by Forbes Business American Airlines as one of the six most influential women in America. Ms. Colwin was also honored as one of the "Nation’s Most Powerful Employment Attorneys" in the Human Resource Executive Magazine.
Benjamin Levine's practice primarily focuses on complex litigation in the areas of sports, entertainment, employment, professional liability, and commercial law in state, federal and administrative courts. Mr. Levine zealously advocates on behalf of a wide range of clients including professional athletes, NCAA Athletes, coaches, sports agents, employers, professionals, municipalities, and businesses. Mr. Levine has experience involving some of the most high profile sports law matters of the recent past; including the Alex Rodriguez disciplinary appeal under MLB’s Joint Drug Policy and the Jonathan Martin NFL workplace harassment case. Mr. Levine successfully represented Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, in his Title IX case involving Florida State University.