Courtyard of Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, USA

Should You Hire an Attorney for a Title IX Hearing?

Facing disciplinary action from a college or university can be a harrowing experience for any student.  Not only is your reputation at stake, but also your ability to complete your education.

If you have been accused of sexual assault on campus, chances are you will undergo some kind of disciplinary/fact-finding process conducted by your institution. Issues arise, however, when systems put in place to deal with academic misconduct like cheating or plagiarism are used instead to adjudicate the highly sensitive nuances of sexual assault cases.

Consulting with an attorney in these proceedings can point out where your rights are being abridged and ensure that your best interests, as well as those of the complaining witness, are being properly considered by your school.

What is Title IX, and what does it have to do with sexual assault?

Congress enacted Title IX to the of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 with the goal of eliminating discrimination based on sex from education in America.  Title IX requires all institutions receiving federal funding (which in practice equates to nearly all institutions) to provide their students an equal opportunity to an education, regardless of gender.

Ok, so what does this law have to do with sexual assault?  Courts have interpreted Title IX to require schools to prevent and remedy sexual harassment and violence on campus because it interferes with the learning environment for students based on their gender.

The Department of Education (ED) dictates that institutions must have a “prompt and equitable” procedure for resolving complaints of sexual harassment or violence.  The ED has also issued informal guidance as to what this procedure should look like, which most universities adopt in order to avoid the revocation of federal funding of all sorts – research grants, financial aid, work-study funds, and countless other types of federal money.

How is a Title IX hearing different from a criminal trial?

Even if you have not been formally charged with a crime, your school may still (and probably will) determine that any report of alleged sexual misconduct on campus merits a hearing.  This hearing will most likely take place before a disciplinary committee, made up of some combination of faculty, staff, and students, depending on your institution.

The purpose of the hearing is not to determine your criminal innocence or guilt, but to assess whether academic consequences are appropriate.

It is important to realize that your school has no obligation under Title IX to conduct this hearing as a court would conduct a criminal trial.  In practice, this means that as the accused student, you are not presumed innocent until proven guilty, you might be barred from cross-examining your accuser, and your school may even prohibit your attorney from representing you during the hearing itself.

Not only that, the committee may make definitive decisions about your future (like whether to expel or suspend you) without these important legal protections of your rights in place.

If a Title IX hearing isn’t a trial, why do I need an attorney?

Being represented by an attorney for your Title IX hearing is important because he or she can help to challenge the system where it may be abridging your rights.  Even if your school does not allow that attorney to be present or ask questions during the hearing itself, your attorney can help you understand what your legal rights are and how to stand up for them.

Your attorney can also look out for elements of your school’s adjudication process which can be challenged in a civil discrimination lawsuit.  For instance, if you are expelled as a result of an unfair, biased adjudication process, your attorney can help you petition a court to find that your expulsion was discriminatory and have you readmitted to school.

The Marshall Defense Firm has helped numerous college and university students navigate on-campus sexual assault allegations, both in court and during Title IX hearings. If you are facing possible disciplinary action from your school, don’t compromise your rights by neglecting to consult an attorney. Please contact us at 206.826.1400 or

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