We reported earlier today that Florida State University questioned Jameis Winston and charged two of his teammates with code of conduct violations after their internal investigation into the rape accusations that riddled the school last year.
Now, USA Today is reporting that the US Department of Education is investigating FSU’s handling of the case.
Sexual harassment and violence are considered forms of sex discrimination under the 1972 federal law, which requires colleges and universities that receive federal funds to investigate claims of sexual assault and provide a timely and impartial grievance procedure to resolve those claims. Non-compliance with the law can result in the department revoking federal funding, although that has never happened.
In a campus setting, accused students are judged in disciplinary hearings under a much lower “preponderance of evidence” standard than in criminal courts. At FSU, and virtually every other school, a campus disciplinary body determines if an accused student is responsible or not responsible and administers punishments that can range from writing a paper to suspension or expulsion.
While developing those disciplinary procedures is left up to each school, OCR advises, “These procedures must apply to all students, including athletes. If a complaint of sexual violence involved a student athlete, the school must follow its standard procedures for resolving sexual violence complaints.”
In its 2011 “Dear Colleague Letter,” OCR said, “Conduct may constitute unlawful sexual harassment under Title IX even if the police do not have sufficient evidence of a criminal violation. In addition, a criminal investigation into allegations of sexual violence does not relieve the school of its duty under Title IX to resolve complaints promptly and equitably.”
When FSU conducted their investigation they did so without speaking with Winston’s accuser, who left the school in November, and 16 months after the initial accusation which is where potential violations of the rule occur.
According to OCR’s 2011 letter, “A school should not conduct a pre-hearing meeting during which only the alleged perpetrator is present and given an opportunity to present his or her side of the story, unless a similar meeting takes place with the complainant.”
The ORC is investigating if Florida State’s investigation was prompt, thorough and impartial. FSU has yet to comment on the matter.