Imagine being a professor or instructor at a college or university who has devoted years and years to academic excellence through teaching, writing, researching and mentoring in his or her chosen field.
Imagine next what it would be like to lose everything — potentially tenure, your position, your credentials and for sure your reputation — because of a false accusation of sexual harassment or discrimination by a student or colleague.
What is behind the accusations?
We recently blogged about a lawsuit we filed against the University of Michigan for a professor who was on the receiving end of just such false accusations by three students. The matter began after she had discussed with one of the students concerns about the academic integrity of the student’s work.
The academic subjects of the work the professor did with the students concerned sexuality, so that topic was discussed during their work together. The complaint against her cited some of these conversations, raising free speech concerns.
These untrue charges were filed under the federal law called Title IX (of the Education Amendments of 1972) that prohibits discrimination or harassment, including sexual assault, based on gender or sex in educational institutions receiving federal funding. While it is crucially important that students, faculty and staff at schools be protected from sexual harassment or discrimination, it is also required in our legal system that those accused have the right to due process of law since false or unfounded accusations also occur.
In this case, even though the university cleared her of the charges, the school still sanctioned her and she has been unable to work because of the stress of the experience. Our lawsuit alleges violations of her constitutional rights to free speech and due process of law.
DOE Title IX guidance under review
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is currently scrutinizing the federal guidelines for university procedures in Title IX complaints, which were relaxed under the Obama administration. The concern is whether loosening the legal standards makes it more difficult to challenge potentially false accusations.
Talk to a lawyer immediately
If you work or study at a college or university and are wrongly accused, you should seek legal representation from an experienced employment law attorney right away. Legal means are available – within the school’s disciplinary process, in the criminal justice system and in civil court – to protect your rights, reputation and job.