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April 4, 2014

FSU under investigation for Title IX violation

On Thursday afternoon, reports broke that Florida State is facing an investigation from the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in connection with its handling of the sexual assault case involving Jameis Winston.

The investigation comes on the grounds of possible Title IX violations by the university in its handling of the case, which was originally reported in December of 2012 and is prompted by an official complaint by the accuser in the Winston case.

Title IX is a federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational program that receives federal funding.

"The Office for Civil Rights can confirm that a Title IX complaint involving Florida State University is under investigation," said a spokesperson for the Department of Education. "Due to federal privacy regulations, the office cannot discuss details of the allegations or the parties involved."

A university spokesman from Florida State did not immediately respond to a request for a statement.

OCR procedure with investigations is to take a 30-day evaluation period to determine if the OCR has jurisdiction and if the complaint is valid. Once deciding to take action with an investigation, the OCR then conducts site visits, in-person and phone interviews and requests relevant documentation. Those investigations can take 6 months or longer.

The OCR is currently past its evaluation period and involved in the investigation stage.

Once the OCR is finished with its investigation, it then enters in to a negotiation with the university to resolve any issues found. If the school is found to be in compliance with Title IX, then the investigation concludes. If the school is out of compliance with Title IX and refuses to negotiate, the OCR can then implement punitive measures, including loss of federal funding. In 10 years, no school has had its federal funding revoked.

Winston was investigated by the Tallahassee Police Department and the State Attorney's office but no charges were filed in the alleged incident, which was reported to police n Dec. 7, 2012. The Tallahassee Police Department received extensive criticism for its perceived poor handling of the investigation, but has defended its actions.

Florida State is also conducting its own, separate investigation into possible student code of conduct violations by Chris Casher and Ronald Darby, two football players who were present on the night of the alleged incident and who have both given statements to police. In particular, Casher's statement that he attempted to videotape Winston and the accuser appears to be a possible code of conduct violation.

Florida State notified the accuser that it has met with Winston as well, according to the Associated Press. If Casher and Darby are found to have violated the code of student conduct, FSU can administer punishments ranging from a letter of reprimand to suspension to expulsion from the school.

But the lengthy delay in beginning that investigation is part of the possible Title IX violation by the school. In a 2011 "Dear Colleague" letter, the OCR stated that schools still have a responsibility to investigate complaints of sexual assault "promptly and equitably" even if there is a criminal investigation. More than 13 months passed between the initial report of the incident to FSU campus police and the follow-up interviews by FSU with Winston, Casher and Darby.

In recent years, the OCR has taken an active role in investigating sexual assault cases on the basis of Title IX discrimination. In March of 2014, 47 colleges were under investigation by the OCR.

The complaints received related to sexual violence have also skyrocketed in the past two years. In 2013, 30 complaints were filed compared to just 11 in 2010. There have already been 25 complaints filed so far this year.

It's still unclear whether the accuser plans to pursue a civil suit against Winston, the Tallahassee Police Department or the University of Florida State, but the accuser has retained high-profile Title IX attorney Baine Kerr.

Florida State NEWS


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