Recently-released OCR letter details policy inconsistencies, concerns in two Title IX cases

April 20, 2018, 12:05 a.m.

More than three years after the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) first announced its investigation of complaints against Stanford, the University released OCR’s April letter detailing the agreement reached following complaints brought forward by students who alleged that Stanford violated Title IX policies in its response to claims of sexual misconduct.

The federal office identified several “concerns” with how Stanford handled two cases. However, OCR did not proceed with an investigation that might have made definitive findings on noncompliance. Instead, OCR decided to resolve the issues through a resolution agreement with Stanford.

Though it originated with specific cases, OCR’s investigation ultimately reviewed all sexual violence and harassment reports from 2012 to 2016 that involved a Stanford student. In addition to particular students’ complaints, OCR evaluated Stanford’s broader Title IX policies.

OCR’s letter discusses three complaints against Stanford, the first of which was filed with OCR in February 2015. The events reported in all three cases detailed in the April letter occurred under the University’s Alternative Review Process, which dealt with prohibited sexual conduct until it was replaced by the Student Title IX Process in February 2016.

Stanford at one point had more sexual violence cases under federal review than any other school in the country. Not all of those cases are dealt with in OCR’s letter though: One case, for example, was administratively closed by OCR in 2016 after the complainant, a male student alleging gender discrimination in a Title IX proceeding, filed a lawsuit; OCR can close a case if the same allegations are filed in court.

Complainants’ names and personal information were redacted from the letter, which details OCR’s conclusions regarding both Stanford’s policies and its actions in specific cases. The release comes on the heels of Provost Persis Drell’s April 10 blog post initially announcing the resolution to the investigation.


Policy analyses

OCR determined that Stanford’s Student Title IX Process, which resolves complaints brought against students, was compliant with Title IX in all but two respects. First, OCR determined that the Student Title IX Process does not specify a “reasonably prompt” time frame for the University to issue a Notice of Concern, the first step in conducting an investigation.

Second, OCR said that the Student Title IX Process employs too lenient a standard for addressing concerns related to retaliation. Prior to the resolution agreement, Stanford promised that complainants would be “reasonably protected” from retaliation following their reports. The agreement requires that the term “reasonably” be redacted.

“Retaliation is prohibited under Title IX and its regulations, and the protections are not limited,” the letter reads.

Stanford’s Title IX Administrative Process — which addresses reports of sexual harassment and violence in which the accused is not a student — drew more concerns from the OCR investigation.

Specifically, the OCR reported that the Administrative Process “does not include the new consent definition” from Stanford’s policy on sexual misconduct, updated in March of 2016. This inconsistency, according the OCR, prevents Title IX officials from effectively providing a “notice of prohibited conduct.” Administrative Process guidelines also reference the outdated Alternative Review Process. Furthermore, policies that dictate the expectations of mandatory reporters do not provide a “reasonably prompt timeframe” in which they must report claims of misconduct.

OCR also took issue with the Administrative Process’ Statement on Faculty Discipline, which comes into play when community members file a complaint against a Stanford faculty member. According to OCR, the Statement does not say that student complainants and faculty respondents have the same rights: to have an advisor be involved in proceedings; to not testify in proceedings; to ask Stanford to provide information about the investigation; and to offer evidence and to respond to the other party’s evidence.

“The grievance process for students making complaints against staff and faculty was not compliant with Title IX requirements,” the letter said.

The Title IX Administrative Process allows, in some cases and with certain stipulations, for reports to be deferred to other processes in lieu of Title IX, such as the faculty discipline process.

But OCR determined that the Title IX Administrative Process does not sufficiently articulate the procedural specifics, impact or timeline of an alternative process. It also does not explain that such a process is voluntary, OCR stated.

The document stated that even Cathy Glaze ’80 J.D. ’85, Stanford’s Title IX Coordinator, was unaware of certain policies and procedures related to the process.

“In OCR’s interview with the Title IX coordinator, she told OCR that she did not know what happens when sanctions are to be implemented against faculty or staff,” the letter said.

In a written statement to The Daily, Glaze disputed this claim and said that OCR’s letter “mischaracterizes my discussion with them about investigations involving faculty and staff.”

“The Title IX Office is responsible for investigating and resolving student-on-student matters and matters in which the responding party is a student,” Glaze continued. “For matters where the complainant is a student but the responding party is a staff or faculty member, the Title IX Office participates in the investigation but is not responsible for sanctioning.”  

Glaze said that because of this distinction, she directed OCR to other Stanford administrators who could provide more detailed information on how those specific cases are resolved.


Case investigations

Two of the three cases described in the OCR’s letter involved University enforcement of no-contact orders. In one case reported by a woman identified as “Student A,” OCR found that Stanford was in compliance with Title IX protocol. In a second case reported by a woman named only as “Student B,” OCR flagged issues. However, it stated that the question of whether Stanford had violated Title IX would require further interviewing, which was preempted by the University’s voluntary agreement with OCR.

Student A alleged in a February 2015 filing to OCR that Stanford did not offer her sufficient interim measures during a Title IX investigation following a “forcible sexual assault” by a male student. After the woman reported the assault to the University in 2014, the University offered her a no-contact order, which she did not receive in writing and which she believed the respondent violated when she saw him riding in a car, though he “did not say or do anything,” according to the report. The Title IX Office reached out to the respondent, though he did not technically violate any provision in the no-contact order.

Later, Student A missed a lecture at the beginning of an academic quarter upon realizing that the respondent was in the same class. An assistant dean in the Residential Education office advised her not to return to the class until the University could resolve the situation; however, Student A returned. Later, Student A called the assistant dean in the midst of a panic attack; the assistant dean met her and said the respondent would not be in the class.

According to OCR, Student A sought academic accommodations following the incident: Her professor granted her an excused absence and arranged to help her make up missed work. Stanford officials also sent her an email informing her that the respondent had dropped the course. Ultimately, the respondent had to move off campus and was escorted to class by Public Safety officials.

Later on in the quarter, a different man broke into a campus building and “screamed at her about her complaint against the respondent.” Student A said she did not know who the man was, and University police — saying they would interview anyone Student A could identify, according to the report — showed Student A around 100 photos of potential intruders, based on details Student A had provided. Student A was “unable to identify the intruder,” according to the report.

Stanford officials moved Student A into a different residence following the incident, and the respondent’s Public Safety escorts were notified of the residential change so they could continue to avoid her.

Five months later, the University concluded in writing that it could not investigate the incident without an identified suspect, given Stanford’s prolonged efforts to identify a possible intruder. 

Student B, whose case raised concerns for OCR, alleged that the University repeatedly failed to enforce a no-contact directive against a student she had accused of physically violent and abusive behavior during and shortly after their romantic relationship.

According to OCR, after the respondent confronted Student B for breaking up with him in 2011 — an incident that allegedly involved an unnamed individual calling the Department of Public Safety on her behalf —  Student B reported several other events over the course of the year.

Wary of retaliation, she declined a formal investigation under Stanford’s Title IX Process, OCR said. Stanford instituted a residence ban on the respondent that later escalated to a no-contact order, a total campus ban and a police stay away order as Student B repeatedly encountered the respondent on campus and received phone calls and emails from him or his family members against University directives.

For instance, after Stanford had issued a total campus ban on the respondent due to repeated violations of the no-contact order, Student B saw a social media picture that showed the respondent at a campus event she had attended and specifically coordinated with the University about after seeing the respondent’s name on the event list.

Then-University President John Hennessy personally apologized to Student B, stating that Stanford “messed up” and meeting with her to discuss areas for improvement. A 2015 letter from Stanford to OCR stated that the respondent had been permitted to attend the event in question while escorted by the associate dean.

In a 2015 case summary signed by then-Title IX Coordinator, Stanford admitted that it failed to communicate with Student B about the respondent’s presence on two occasions and that it “did not fully enforce a campus restriction” on one occasion.

Student B told OCR that she faced an “ongoing hostile environment,” incurred financial expense and did not receive sufficient personal or academic support while at Stanford. After the directive violations, she sought academic accommodations for a reduced course load due to distress. She also took issue with Stanford’s decision not to proceed with an investigation of the allegations of assault and relationship violence.

The Title IX Coordinator wrote in 2015 that no formal Title IX process took place because Student B was opposed to it and because an outside psychologist found that the respondent was not a threat. OCR wrote that it “did not find any documentation that Student B objected to the University’s decision” at the time.

In addition to issues with stay-away order enforcement, OCR noted another concern that might have amounted to a Title IX violation: the University’s failure to give Student B written notice of the outcome of her initial report or to formally refer her to the Title IX grievance process — a step that University documentation showed Student B was opposed to, OCR wrote. The University reached a voluntary agreement with OCR before further investigation to assess if noncompliance took place.

A third female student, referenced in the letter as “Student C,” alleged that a male student subjected her to harassment and “unwanted sexual touching.” Under the ARP, the respondent was found not responsible. OCR expressed concerns about equity based on issues with disability accommodations during the Title IX hearing process as well as the use of prejudicial evidence in adjudication.

During a Title IX case that went to a hearing, Student C took issue with some of the evidence included in an investigation file that both parties get to review before it reached the hearing panel. She requested to redact positive character evidence in favor of the respondent as well as include negative character evidence in rebuttal. OCS (Office of Community Standards) informed her that her request was granted, but the updated investigation file contained both positive character evidence for the respondent and information about Student C’s past sexual history, which the respondent had added since the original version.

Stanford redacted a specific incident that Student C had allegedly related to the respondent from some witness statements because it was “potentially prejudicial,” but the reference was retained in the respondent’s statement. The University investigator told OCR that the information constituted “proper rebuttal evidence and went to Student C’s credibility.”

Student C submitted additional requests for redaction in response, but the OCS director provided the hearing panel with the unredacted version of the respondent’s statement and Student C’s requests, asking that the panel decide whether to review the information in question at the hearing. The panel eventually decided to review all information submitted by the respondent.

Stanford told OCR that it allowed the positive character evidence to be included because it was an opportunity to rebut a statement made by Student C — but the relevant portion had been redacted from Student C’s submission. The University also excluded information from an additional witness interview Student C had requested on the grounds that it was not relevant to her case.

In addition, OCR was concerned about the University’s delay in granting Student C’s request to have sufficient time to respond to the respondent’s statement, which the letter stated “may have prejudicially impacted Student C’s ability to present the case.”

OCR also noted that a lack of coordination between OCS and the Office of Accessible Education (OAE), which led the OCS director to initially deny Student C’s request for specific accommodations as well as a pre-hearing meeting to discuss logistics relating to her OAE-registered disability. Student C’s request was eventually granted after she provided the requested documentation, but she told OCR that “the climate the University created surrounding her disability needs hampered her ability to participate fully and provide testimony at the hearing.”

Finally, OCR expressed concern that the outcome letter did not have sufficient information to explain why the hearing panel found the respondent’s account more credible than Student C’s account.


Moving forward

Under the agreement it reached with OCR, Stanford has agreed to update its policies and pursue better coordination with the University’s disability office, better enforcement and communication of stay-away orders, as well as consistent application of policies regarding the use of sexual history as evidence. The University also has a new Title IX document management system to address OCR’s report of difficulty obtaining certain records.

In addition, the agreement requires that Drell meet with the two students whose cases OCR flagged concerns about. In the meetings, Drell will discuss relevant policy changes and give the students a chance to “share their concerns” about how Stanford addressed their cases.

Stanford must submit its revised policies to OCR this summer by July 1.

An advisory committee will also soon wrap up its review of the pilot Student Title IX Process, which went into effect in winter of 2016. OCR did not take issue with some features of the process that have drawn criticism, such as Stanford’s sexual assault definitions and the vote threshold required to find someone responsible in a hearing; however, Drell noted in her blog post that the advisory committee continues to consider feedback for those aspects of the pilot.

Recommendations from the committee will require OCR’s review.


Contact Courtney Douglas at ccd4 ‘at’

Courtney Douglas worked for The Daily from 2016 to 2020, and served as editor-in-chief of Volume 254.

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