I’m honored to share this important guest blog with guidance for Title IX Coordinators by my Workplace Investigations Group colleague, Courtney Bullard, Esq.
Courtney is located in Chattanooga, TN and has practiced employment law for over 15 years, representing hundreds of private and public entities in harassment and discrimination charges and litigation. For 8 years, she served as a University system attorney where she advised on employment and Title IX investigations. Courtney regularly counsels employers on employment-law related matters and institutions in Title IX compliance. She specializes in Title IX investigations for private and public institutions. Courtney received her undergraduate degree from Indiana University and earned her J.D. from the University of Memphis School of Law where she served as Comments Editor of the Law Review.
Courtney can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-0448.
Know Your Role – Title IX Coordinators
Guest Blog by Courtney Bullard, Esq.
Advocate, Educate, Collaborate
Your supervisor comes to you, perhaps even the president of your university, and informs you that in addition to your duties as the HR director, or a faculty member, or the Director of Office of Equity and Diversity, you will now serve as the Title IX Coordinator for the campus. You are whisked off to an intensive training where it is like drinking from a compliance fire hose. You learn about survivors, predators, complaint intake, interviews, training, investigations and statistics. You learn about the Office of Civil Rights, Title IX, VAWA, and the Campus SaVe Act. You learn about what your institution should be doing to comply with all of these federal laws.
You walk away thinking one or more of the following:
- You have 3 legal pads full of notes and lists of items that you are almost certain your institution is not doing and therefore your institution is not in compliance and therefore you are crossing your fingers and toes that this year is not the year your campus lands itself in a federal investigation, or worse, litigation;
- You have no idea where to begin but know that you have to begin somewhere (look for my article “Low Hanging Fruit”);
- Even if you fulfilled all of the items on your newly made list, there is no way your campus will ever reach institutional compliance.
The first step in adapting to your new responsibilities is simple in theory but often difficult in day to day execution and that is to know your role in institutional compliance. The reality is, an enormous responsibility now rests at your feet. Not only do you have a responsibility to the institution but you also have a responsibility to the students on your campus, especially those involved in a complaint, because their lives will be forever impacted. I do not say this to scare you, but to ensure you understand the gravity and the importance of your position.
As you proceed in your new position, there are some tenants that will help you stay focused on your role and responsibilities as Title IX Coordinator. These three tenants will provide you with a foundation to build on as you enter the compliance world, and are applicable to both novice Title IX Coordinators assuming multiple roles and those who are seasoned, dedicated, Title IX Coordinators.
Advocate: First and foremost, you are an advocate for institutional compliance and this can become an unpopular position with your colleagues. In that role, there will be times when there is the perception that you are advocating for a specific party involved in an allegation. If, for example, you recommend interim measures that assist a complainant but inconvenience a respondent you may be perceived as being pro-complainant. There will be times when you are mandating training in order to effectuate compliance and you encounter resistance from a division or department. There may be times where you have to recommend something to a superior that you know will be controversial or ignite conflict. There will often be times when you are seen as making a process more difficult or cumbersome. Remind yourself that your role is to advocate for and protect the institution at large, no matter how unpopular that position may be.
Educate: If OCR comes on to your campus for an investigation, the first stop will be you. OCR expects you to have your finger on your campus’ compliance pulse. Educate yourself on what is occurring on your campus by way of compliance. Investigate the nooks and crannies of your campus that are not always seen and celebrated, but that you may discover are already doing something in furtherance of compliance such as training, for example. In addition to familiarizing yourself with your campus, take opportunities to attend training whenever you can. This will prove difficult in the midst of an already hectic schedule, but it is not only important to hone your craft but to provide you with an opportunity to commiserate with colleagues so that you know you are not alone. Finally, educate yourself on what is going on in your region and also across the country. Often the mistakes of other campuses can serve as learning opportunities that you can utilize on your own campus if a similar situation arises or as a tabletop exercise for your Title IX team.
Collaborate. Set the tone early that your mission is to collaborate with colleagues in order to protect the institution and ultimately the parties involved in an investigation. Take opportunities to get to know the colleagues that may be involved in an investigation so that you have a relationship before the stress of a report of an allegation or an investigation ensues. There will be tension, there will be disagreement, but a well laid foundation of trust and collaboration will go a long way towards reaching a resolution that ultimately impacts your ability to do your job and your campus’ ability to comply with the law. At the end of the day, your recommendations (hopefully with the assistance of experienced legal counsel during difficult cases) reign supreme over the agendas and missions of the divisions on your campus with regards to matters affecting Title IX compliance. The best way, however, to ensure that your recommendations are listened to and utilized is through the power of collaboration early on in the process.
Although this post is geared to the novice Title IX Coordinator, these tenants are good reminders for the seasoned Coordinator as well. When you find yourself in a sticky situation, and most of them are, always take a step back and begin with the basics – Advocate, Educate and Collaborate.
Workplace Investigations Group offers a National Directory of well-qualified attorneys who conduct impartial workplace and Title IX investigations. All of its workplace investigators have 10+ years of employment law experience and have agreed to support their responsibilities to the professional and impartial workplace investigations process and the parties that they serve. It also delivers training to in-house counsel, risk managers, human resources professionals and others on how to conduct internal investigations that will withstand third-party scrutiny. Click here for information on upcoming training this week in Miami, Florida.