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Russlynn Ali

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A Response to Nathan Harden

Posted: 07/25/2012 1:46 pm

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On July 18, Nathan Harden authored a post titled "For Yale Women, Equality Remains Out of Reach," about the recent resolution of an investigation of Yale by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which I am privileged to lead.

Mr. Harden's post makes a number of inaccurate and misleading claims about the resolution, which brought to a close an extensive investigation into whether there was a sexually hostile environment on the Yale campus to which the university did not respond in a prompt and adequate manner.

The complaint, filed in March, 2011, alleged Yale was in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.

On the basis of that complaint, OCR conducted an thorough investigation to assess: whether the university had allowed a sexually hostile environment to be created on campus by not sufficiently responding to notice of sexual harassment; whether the university had designated a Title IX coordinator; and whether the university had adequate grievance procedures to promptly and equitably address complaints under Title IX,

The author takes OCR to task because it "failed to find Yale in violation of gender equity laws," and for its "failure to penalize Yale." He suggests that "a significant fine" should have been levied against Yale "if the government wants to send the message that it takes the law seriously." He concludes that "it looks as if a well-connected university like Yale is considered above accountability."

Not one of these characterizations is accurate.

OCR did not make a finding of compliance or non-compliance in this case because the case was settled prior to finishing the investigation. After the complaint was filed, Yale on its own initiative took significant remedial steps and committed to take additional steps necessary to address concerns raised in the complaint and by OCR. In fact, the agreement Yale signed, when fully implemented, will ensure that the University is in compliance with Title IX.

While settlement of the case precluded any finding of compliance or non-compliance, even had OCR's investigation concluded that Yale violated Title IX, the agreement would have been the same. Voluntary resolutions such as this are commonly used by OCR across the country because they allow us to get to a resolution that protects students more quickly and more effectively.

Contrary to Mr. Harden's assertion, OCR's resolution does not "absolve the University of any past wrongdoing" -- nowhere in the document is there such a statement. Rather, the resolution puts in place robust systems that ensure a safe learning and living environment for women at Yale, free of sexual harassment and violence. OCR will monitor Yale's implementation of the agreement and the University's compliance with Title IX concerning sexual misconduct. OCR will not close its monitoring until OCR determines that the University has fulfilled the terms of the agreement and is in compliance with the Title IX regulations.

With respect to Mr. Harden's disappointment that OCR did not fine Yale -- the law does not authorize OCR to assess fines. If Yale fails to fully implement the agreement or otherwise does not comply with Title IX, OCR will take appropriate action, including enforcement action that could result in the termination of Federal funds to the institution.

A school has a responsibility to respond promptly and effectively to sexual harassment and violence. If a school knows or reasonably should know about sexual harassment or sexual violence that creates a hostile environment, the school must take immediate action to eliminate the harassment or violence, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects. These are the legal requirements applicable to all recipients of Federal funds, and applied in this case to Yale.

 
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