Policy on Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation

Posted on by bsoika

August 14, 2020

Dear Trojan Community,

I write to share USC’s new Policy on Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation , which is effective immediately.  The Policy incorporates the required Title IX regulations, as well as a University-wide approach to preventing and responding to discrimination and harassment on the basis of protected characteristics, retaliation, and specific forms of harassment based on sex: sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, and related forms of conduct.  The Policy provides resources, supportive measures, and care to all USC community members – students, faculty, and staff – who make a report under the Policy, as well as fair and equitable resolution processes in response to a formal complaint of conduct prohibited under the Policy.

Office of Equity, Equal Opportunity, and Title IX
Reports of discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and sexual misconduct under the Policy will be addressed by the Office for Equity, Equal Opportunity, and Title IX (EEO-TIX Office) under the leadership of Catherine Spear, our new Vice President for Equity, Equal Opportunity, and Title IX who will onboard at the end of this month.  The EEO-TIX Office combines the Office of Equity and Diversity (OED) and the Title IX Office to provide a centralized resource for all community members.  Similarly, the Policy coordinates and replaces USC’s existing student, faculty, and staff policies to streamline access to reporting options, resources, and procedural options.

Final Title IX Regulations
The changes to our policies and processes were required by the May 19, 2020 release of the final Title IX regulations by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), as well as the terms of Resolution Agreements between the University and OCR in 2018 and 2020.  The Title IX regulations provide detailed requirements for processes related to reporting, supportive measures, informal resolution, and formal resolution that must be implemented by August 14, 2020.

The regulations, which have the force of law, have been in development since the fall of 2017 when OCR rescinded prior guidance from 2011 and 2014.  Proposed regulations were released for public comment in November 2018, with more than 120,000 individual commenters responding.  The final regulations, spanning 2033 pages, are complex, voluminous, and not without controversy.  Multiple lawsuits have been filed seeking to prevent their implementation, including by attorneys general on behalf of 18 states, and similar lawsuits by civil liberties groups seeking to enforce implementation are expected.  We are tracking each of these developments, as well as concerns that have been raised by community members and advocacy groups across the country.

Importantly, while the regulations include many required elements, colleges and universities can continue to prohibit discrimination and harassment and respond in a way that is consistent with institutional values.  We want to reassure our USC community that the revised Policy and processes maintain core elements of care, equity, and fair process for all.  Please see the FAQ for more information.  While we are obligated to comply with federal law, we will continue to prioritize our efforts to foster a climate free from discrimination and harassment, to seek to reduce barriers to reporting, and to hold individuals accountable for conduct that violates University policy.

Inclusive Process
The Policy was developed through an inclusive process that involved consultation with University administrators and staff in OED and Title IX, the incoming Vice President for EEO-TIX, external subject matter experts, and a newly-created internal committee that includes student, faculty, and staff representation.  Although the timing of the release of the regulations was unfortunate, in light of the pandemic, the compressed time frame, and the window for action occurring when most of our community are on summer break, the University convened a Policy and Community Advisory Committee (PCAC) to receive education and information about Title IX and the new regulations, and to provide inputs about support measures, care, reporting, and equity in the development of the Policy.  PCAC includes faculty and staff from schools and departments across the University, as well as the presidents of the Academic Senate and Staff Assembly, and representatives from Graduate and Undergraduate Student Government.  We are grateful to this committee that has been meeting since June to engage in dialogue about Title IX, harassment and discrimination, and the impacts of the new regulations for University stakeholders and constituents.  PCAC is an ongoing committee that will continue to provide a forum for community engagement.

Annual Review
The Policy builds in an annual review, which will permit the University to amend the Policy and resolution processes as necessary or appropriate in light of legal developments and feedback from implementers and University community members. During the course of the fall and spring semesters, we will be providing multiple opportunities for community input and feedback as part of this process.  Those opportunities will include continued engagement by PCAC, virtual meetings (or webinars), and an online survey where University community members can submit comments about the Policy and processes.  We encourage all University community members to review the Policy and processes carefully and to submit any comments, observations, feedback or questions here.

Overview of Policy Provisions
The Policy includes the University’s Notice of Non-discrimination, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, sex, age, marital status, national origin, ancestry, military status, medical condition, pregnancy, disability, political belief or affiliation, military or veteran status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, gender expression, genetic information, and any other class of individuals protected from discrimination under state or federal law.  Members of the University community can find information in the Policy about scope and jurisdiction, confidential resources, reporting options, supportive measures, the definitions of prohibited conduct, affirmative consent, incapacitation, employee reporting responsibilities, and how the University protects privacy and confidentiality.

Overview of Resolution Processes
The Policy is accompanied by two sets of resolution processes, one that applies to all forms of sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, and retaliation, and one that applies to all other forms of prohibited discrimination and harassment based on protected characteristics.  Both sets of resolution processes follow a parallel process for intake and outreach, initial assessment, the provision of supportive measures, investigations, and informal resolution.  The parties can be accompanied at any meeting or proceeding under both resolution processes by an advisor of their choice. The investigation procedures are robust, including an opportunity to present witnesses and information, review all of the evidence at the end of the investigation, submit written comments, review a written investigation report, and submit written comments in response to the investigation report.

As required by the Title IX regulations, the resolution process for sexual misconduct includes a live hearing (may be virtual) in front of a neutral and impartial decision-maker where a party’s advisor has the right to pose relevant questions of the other party or witnesses.  Any statements that are not subject to this questioning (cross-examination) cannot be considered by the decision-maker.  The University will provide an advisor for any individual who does not have an advisor at the hearing.  The resolution process for other forms of discrimination and harassment is the same as that for sexual misconduct, except that the investigator, in consultation with the delegate of the VP for EEO-TIX, makes the determination of responsibility and no live hearing with cross examination is required.

Additional Resources
Additional information is available on the University’s updated EEO-TIX website, including links to an infographic with information about the new Policy, supportive measures, and options for reporting and filing a formal complaint; the Policy and the resolution processes ; a flow chart to guide the parties through each process; and an FAQ document.

While the Policy and processes are important components for combatting discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, our work does not stop here. We must hold ourselves accountable to USC’s mission of fostering a diverse community where all members can be safe and thrive. Through education, awareness, and focused attention on treating every individual with elevated respect, we can prevent discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.

I thank you for sharing in the commitment, effort, and partnership to promote a healthy, safe, and enriching environment at USC for all of our community members.

Sincerely,

Felicia A. Washington
Senior Vice President of Human Resources

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