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george-washington-bridge-4023777_1920In Kelly v. United States, issued this week—the so-called “Bridgegate” case—the Supreme Court once again limits the use of federal criminal fraud statutes to establish a standard of good government for state and local governments. As in McNally v. United States and Skilling v. United States, the Court in Kelly continues to insist that fraud, to be a federal crime, must have as its goal the obtaining of money or property. Until the Court decided McNally in 1987, courts had approved of convictions where a defendant sought to deprive the victim of the “honest services” of someone who owed a fiduciary duty to the victim, on the theory that such services were “property” of the victim. The Court rejected this expansive definition of property in McNally, narrowing the scope of the mail and wire fraud statutes. Congress immediately amended the statutes in 1988 to reinstate the broader concept: “For the purposes of this chapter, the term ‘scheme or artifice to defraud’ includes a scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services.” In Skilling the Court again took up “honest services” fraud and held that the statutes encompass only such schemes as involve bribery or kickbacks. After Skilling all federal fraud cases must either involve money or property as the goal of the fraud, or if the goal is subversion of “honest services” it must be by means of bribery or kickbacks. Since in Kelly no bribes were given, the government advanced two ways they said that the defendants deprived the Port Authority, which operated the bridge, of property.

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US-DOE-sealOne of several controversial revisions to the new Title IX regulations issued by the Department of Education (DOE) is the change to the definition of “sexual harassment.” The regulations significantly narrow the scope of Title IX’s definition of sexual harassment, making it less expansive than the workplace standard for sexual harassment under Title VII and related state anti-discrimination laws.  The DOE has justified this dramatic redefinition of sexual harassment based on concerns that Title IX enforcement has been overbroad and, as a result, has applied to conduct that may implicate free speech and academic freedom concerns.  The DOE also supports the revisions by claiming that they clarify and provide more explicit guidance to schools about what conduct constitutes sexual harassment for Title IX purposes.  The new regulations may provide more clarity in the most egregious circumstances involving quid pro quo sexual harassment and conduct that constitutes sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, or stalking under the Clery Act (the federal law requiring United States colleges and universities to disclose information about crime on and around their campuses).  However, the revised definition raises serious questions for complainants about whether other conduct—such as some forms of physical contact, verbal sexual harassment, or gender-based (non-sexual) or LGBTQ-based harassment—will be prohibited under Title IX.

Definition of Sexual Harassment Under Prior Law

Under prior guidance, the DOE defined sexual harassment as “[c]onduct of a sexual nature [that] is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive to limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the education program, or to create a hostile or abusive educational environment.”  This definition broadly included a variety of conduct that could interfere in a student’s ability to participate in school, ranging from physical conduct such as rape, groping, and other nonconsensual sexual contact to verbal harassment.

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US-DOE-sealThe new Title IX regulations that were released yesterday impose detailed requirements schools must follow to address complaints of sexual harassment, including sexual assault. Until now, under Title IX schools were left to their own devices to develop grievance procedures, the only regulatory requirement was that those procedures be “prompt and equitable.” In recent years schools’ processes for assessing complaints of sexual harassment have been the source of increasing litigation, as students who feel the disciplinary process was unfair sue their schools for violations of Title IX or state law.

As we have previously discussed on this blog, a number of courts have wrestled with what makes a school disciplinary procedure fair enough (generally addressing this question under state laws that require something like fundamental fairness in these processes.) Some courts have noted that the impairment of a student’s right to present evidence is a factor that could lead a school process to be found fundamentally unfair. In my experience, representing students in Title IX cases across the country, school policies have varied widely in terms of what evidence they will permit. While some schools have allowed students to present expert witness testimony or reports, others exclude such evidence. Some schools allow their investigators to seek out information from their own “expert” witnesses (often members of the school’s health services center), while others restrict investigations to fact evidence. Some schools allow students to submit the results of polygraph tests, others exclude that evidence.

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US-DOE-sealCross examination rights in Title IX campus cases have long been hotly contested—both in litigation challenging the adequacy of school sexual misconduct proceedings and in the public debate about how colleges and universities should handle allegations of sexual misconduct. This week’s newly issued Title IX regulations have attempted to find a middle path: they require schools to hold live hearings and permit cross-examination, but only if it is conducted by advisors rather than by the parties themselves.

Until now, the rights of the parties in campus sexual misconduct cases to question each other and witnesses  have been highly variable. (Generally respondents accused of sexual misconduct and their advocates have pushed for these rights, while groups advocating for complainants have opposed them, but it’s worth noting that the regulations grant the same rights to both parties.) State and federal courts in different parts of the country have taken sometimes very different positions on whether some form of cross-examination is required under the Constitution, Title IX, or state law, and, if so, what that cross-examination has to look like. In general, the decisions granting such a right have been limited to students of public institutions, who have constitutional due process rights that students at private schools do not have.

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US-DOE-sealYesterday, the Department of Education released final new Title IX regulations. Our office is addressing the regulations, which mandate significant changes to the way that most colleges and universities have been handling accusations of sexual assault and harassment, in a series of blog posts. This post addresses just one important issue as to which the regulations clarify schools’ options: the standard of proof that they can use to adjudicate complaints falling under Title IX.

While overall the regulations prescribe how allegations must be resolved with a fair amount of specificity, one area in which they have given the schools increased discretion compared to prior guidance is the standard of proof for resolving allegations. In a 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter, issued in a different presidential administration, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) required schools to use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard to determine whether or not a respondent was responsible for sexual harassment or assault. A preponderance of evidence means, essentially, that the evidence establishes that something is more likely than not to have occurred.

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US-DOE-sealThe new Title IX regulations from the Department of Education (summarized by my colleague here) promise significant procedural protections for students accused of sexual misconduct, and require that all potential victims of sexual harassment be offered supportive services at a minimum. Among other things, the regulations mandate that, in response to a “formal complaint” of “sexual harassment,” a university give an accused student notice of the allegations and sufficient time to prepare for any meetings, an opportunity to gather and present evidence to an unbiased investigator who must presume the accused student’s innocence, and a live hearing at which the accused student’s attorney or other advisor can cross-examine the complainant and other witnesses, among other requirements.

However, the regulations narrow the scope of Title IX’s applicability to sexual harassment significantly compared to how many institutions currently apply it. Allegations of sexual assaults off campus or outside the country, sexual harassment where the complainant is not affiliated with the accused student’s university, and acts that do not meet the stringent definition of sexual harassment in the regulations are among various situations that are left out of the procedures required by the regulations. As to these allegations, universities seem to have a freer hand, subject to the requirements of other federal and state laws.

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US-DOE-sealToday the U.S. Department of Education released its long-awaited regulations implementing Title IX. The regulations require a complete overhaul of how schools currently handle allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault, and dramatically limit schools’ responsibilities to address those claims.

By way of background, in 2011 the Obama administration issued a Dear Colleague Letter that provided guidance to schools (K-12 and post-secondary) on how to address sexual harassment. That letter was not binding law, but because the Department of Education could withhold federal funding from any school that did not comply with it, schools revamped their processes for addressing complaints of sexual harassment and sexual assault to meet the standards set out in the letter. After Donald Trump took office, the Department of Education rescinded that guidance, and in 2018 issued proposed regulations that were published for public comment. Today, the final version of those regulations, and commentary addressing the public comments, was released.

What follows is a brief overview of some of the major provisions of the new regulations, which take effect August 14, 2020.

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woman-in-blue-sweater-lying-on-bed-3873179-scaledIf you have been exposed to COVID-19 or have COVID-19, the last thing you want to worry about is your workplace rights and obligations. However, both you and your employer have certain rights and obligations to ensure your health and safety, and the health and safety of people you come into contact with at work.

What do I do if I’ve been exposed, tested positive, or have symptoms of COVID-19?

The Massachusetts Attorney General has made clear that employers can require employees who have been exposed or have a family member who has been exposed to stay out of work, even if quarantine has not been recommended. If you exhibit symptoms of COVID-19, your employer can also require you to stay out of work even if you have not tested for COVID-19. If your employer requires you to stay out of work, you are eligible to apply for unemployment benefits, and may also be eligible for the new paid sick leave benefits the federal government recently enacted.

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girl-1641215_1920The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) provides $100 billion dollars worth of relief to Americans coping with the coronavirus outbreak.  Below is a summary of the provisions that affect workers most directly. The bill goes into effect on April 2, 2020, and expires December 31, 2020.

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cdc-w9KEokhajKw-unsplash-scaledMy colleague recently explained how Massachusetts and federal leave laws may apply to employees who contract COVID-19 or who are medically required to self-quarantine because of concerns about COVID-19. In addition to leave laws, such as the Massachusetts earned sick time law and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)state and federal disability laws provide protections to employees. Disability laws also allow employers to require medical examinations and exclude employees from the workplace in certain circumstances.

The main state and federal laws that prohibit disability discrimination in the workplace are the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act, and Massachusetts General Laws ch. 151B. These laws provide similar protections and generally prohibit discrimination against an employee because of that employee’s real or perceived disability, or that employee’s history of having a disability. Disability laws also require employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to disabled employees to allow them to perform their jobs. 

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