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U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights Reaches Agreement to Resolve Sexual Harassment Investigation of Arcadia University in Pennsylvania

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The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) today announced the resolution of a sexual harassment investigation of Arcadia University in Pennsylvania.

OCR determined that the university violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), when it failed to investigate possible sexual harassment by a university professor despite the university repeatedly receiving reports over several years from students and faculty that the professor harassed students.

OCR also determined that when the university finally initiated an investigation into allegations that the professor sexually harassed his students, the university did not complete its investigation once the professor tendered his resignation, violating the university’s Title IX obligations to determine whether sex discrimination occurred and to redress any hostile environment students may have suffered.

OCR’s investigation established that several students and faculty reported to the university from 2018 to 2021 that the professor repeatedly engaged in sexual harassment of female students. The sexually harassing conduct was reported to the then-chief of human resources and a dean. OCR also obtained evidence showing that students reported the professor’s sexually harassing conduct in the professor’s course evaluations from 2019 onward. For example, a student stated that “[t]he professor made many sexual inappropriate comments on a regular basis. Everyone felt uncomfortable . . .” Another student wrote that “[t]here was a lot of strange comments of [a] sexual nature.”

One university staff member – the former chief of human resources – mistakenly believed that she could not pursue an investigation because the professor was tenured, and that the conduct alleged did not state a Title IX claim because no allegation was made of inappropriate touching. OCR also obtained evidence showing that the former chief of human resources believed that the professor retaliated against the students who first reported his conduct by accusing the students of cheating but that the university did not address these concerns.

After years of receiving reports about the professor’s alleged sexual harassment of students, the university finally initiated an investigation of the professor in 2021 in response to a formal complaint.

Despite initiating an investigation in response to these complaints, the university incorrectly ceased all further Title IX activities once the professor tendered his resignation following the scheduling of a hearing on the allegations of possible sexual harassment. OCR concluded that the university violated Title IX, including because it failed to satisfy its obligation to address any effects of sexual harassment on impacted students, notwithstanding the professor’s resignation.

“Arcadia University first ignored repeated notice that a professor serially harassed university students and then compounded the discriminatory harm – in violation of Title IX – when it ended its investigation based on the professor’s resignation, without determining whether university students needed action to end and redress a hostile environment resulting from multiyear sexual harassment,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon.  “Title IX requires more than Arcadia University provided here, and I appreciate the university’s commitment now to address that wrong and ensure that students learn in the university environment free from sex discrimination.”

The resolution agreement requires the university to take several steps, including:

  • Assign a third party to complete its investigation of the formal complaint against the professor and, if the conduct alleged is substantiated, and created a hostile environment on the basis of sex, offer individual remedies to the individuals who filed the formal complaint.
  • Conduct a comprehensive investigation of the professor’s actions for a period of four years to determine whether his actions created a hostile environment on the basis of sex for other students, and if so, offer appropriate remedies.
  • Conduct a review of all Title IX complaints of student- and staff-involved sexual harassment for a period of three years, to ensure that each complaint was resolved in compliance with Title IX, and if not, provide appropriate remedies.
  • Provide to OCR documentation of Title IX case file reviews for a period of two years.
  • Conduct a climate survey with students, and provide OCR a summary of the survey results and the university’s proposed corrective actions in response to the survey results for OCR approval. And,
  • Revise the university’s Title IX Policy and Procedures, provide Title IX training to university faculty and staff, and post its Title IX training materials on its website.

The resolution letter and resolution agreement are available on the Office for Civil Rights website.

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