We’re kicking off what we hope will be an extremely useful series of guest posts today from amanforsomeseasons. I’ll let him introduce himself.
As a regular reader and a friend of the Feminist Philosophers blog, as a former philosopher and current lawyer (yes, I know), and as a feminist and an interested observer of events that affect women’s issues, I am pleased to be given an opportunity to provide some legal commentary around many of the subjects discussed on this blog.
I have recently enjoyed a number of lively and stimulating discussions with a regular Feminist Philosophers blogger, particularly about how universities are handling – and, in some cases, failing to handle – allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination. One of the major themes of our discussions has been why some universities opt to deal with these issues publicly, often to their detriment, while others decide instead to whitewash the problem quietly.
I enjoyed hearing the perspective of someone who sees frequent and startling examples of the latter solution; she was very interested to hear my legal perspective on both. She said that the Feminist Philosophers’ readership, too, might be interested to get a lawyer’s take on these things, and so she has invited me to post a few entries. Depending upon the reception, I may do more than a few (but hopefully not less).
I welcome comments and have asked that commenting for my posts remains open; I will do my best to engage with the commenters. And now the fine print:
- Please understand that in blogging here, or in responding to comments, I am writing for educational purposes only, to give general information and a general understanding of the law. I do not intend to provide specific legal advice about your individual circumstances or legal questions. You acknowledge that neither your reading of, nor posting on, this blog establishes an attorney-client relationship between you and me. My posts should not be used as a substitute for seeking competent legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state. Readers of this information should not act upon any information contained on this website without seeking professional counsel. The transmission of confidential information via Internet email is highly discouraged.
Thank you. I am looking forward to our discussions.
Following its investigation, OCR determined that the Law School’s current and prior sexual harassment policies and procedures failed to comply with Title IX’s requirements for prompt and equitable response to complaints of sexual harassment and sexual assault. The Law School also did not appropriately respond to two student complaints of sexual assault. In one instance, the Law School took over a year to make its final determination and the complainant was not allowed to participate in this extended appeal process, which ultimately resulted in the reversal of the initial decision to dismiss the accused student and dismissal of the complainant’s complaint.
During the course of OCR’s investigation, the Law School adopted revised procedures that use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard for its sexual harassment investigations and afford appeal rights to both parties, in compliance with Title IX. The Law School also complied with the Title IX requirements relating to the designation of a Title IX Coordinator and publication of its non-discrimination notice.
Notre Dame appeals to SCOTUS over ACA October 8, 2014
The University of Notre Dame has appealed to the Supreme Court, requesting that it require the lower courts reconsider its case against the HHS mandate in the light of the Hobby Lobby decision. Notre Dame lost its previous appeal, in which three anonymous students filed an intervening suit.
One unique feature of the legal complaint that Notre Dame is asking be reconsidered is that it asserts government regulation which treats religious universities as distinct from houses of worship violates the university’s religious belief in the unity of the Church. In its complaint, the university writes,
The U.S. Government Mandate also improperly attempts to sever Notre Dame from the Roman Catholic Church. Notre Dame sincerely believes in the unity of the Catholic Church, including that Catholic educational institutions, especially Notre Dame, are by definition the “heart of the church” or Ex Corde Ecclesiae. Notre Dame’s mission is just as central to Catholic faith and life as the mission of Catholic houses of worship. Yet, the U.S. Government Mandate would limit the definition of “religious employers” to houses of worship, attempting to sever the Church from its heart and to divide the unified Church. The U.S. Government mandate would thus turn the broad right to Religious Exercise into a narrow Right to Worship.*
Irrespective of what one thinks about religious freedom, women’s rights to healthcare, or potential violations of the establishment clause, this is a troubling argument. If religiously-affiliated universities could not be treated as distinct from houses of worship without violating religious exercise rights, then effectively, students at those universities could not be protected from sexual misconduct, harassment, or discrimination by Title IX as Title IX is not applicable to houses of worship (nor could it be).
*It is worth noting that Notre Dame has argued in court in the past (cf. Laskowski v. Spellings and Am. Jewish Cong. v. Corp. for Nat’l. & Cmty. Serv.) that activities such as the provision of healthcare coverage benefits do not constitute religious exercise.
Yes means yes bill in California August 31, 2014
On Thursday, the California state legislature voted to replace the “no means no” standard for sexual consent on college campuses with the affirmative “yes means yes” definition. Under this standard, silence or lack of resistance is not considered a legally acceptable way to convey consent. Inebriation will also not be considered an acceptable defense. Gov. Jerry Brown has until September 30 to sign the bill. If he does, all colleges receiving state funding would have to adhere to “yes means yes.” Campus assault advocates have been pushing for such reform, arguing that “ no means no” unfairly burdens victims. However, many worry that “yes means yes” is a vague standard.
Rapist sentenced 361 days in order to avoid trial August 12, 2014
From the Star Tribune, man who confessed to raping two girls, 13 and 15, was giving a plea-deal with a sentence of the time he had already served — 361 days. The county attorney, James Backstrom, said this will allow for avoiding potentially traumatizing the victims by requiring them to testify.
The new Director of Public Prosecutions in England & Wales, Alison Saunders, has said juries should be warned about myths and stereotypes associated with rape BEFORE they hear evidence:
Ms Saunders said: “There is lots of really good practice now, so the judge gives the jury directions on myths and stereotypes. But, what normally happens is that they’re given at the end of the case when the jury is just about to go out and deliberate.
“All of us are human – you’re going to hear the evidence, you’re going to make a judgement and then you’re told to set your judgement aside and [are told by the judge] these are the things you should be taking into account – actually it’s better to hear that at the beginning.”
It’s an interesting article, based on an interview with Alison Saunders and Martin Hewitt, the Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead on adult sexual offences.
Not Alone April 29, 2014
The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault has released its first report. A snippet:
Among the most promising prevention strategies – and one we heard a lot about in our listening sessions – is bystander intervention. Social norms research reveals that men often misperceive what other men think about this issue: they overestimate their peers’ acceptance of sexual assault and underestimate other men’s willingness to intervene when a woman is in trouble. And when men think their peers don’t object to abusive behavior, they are much less likely to step in and help. Programs like Bringing in the Bystander work to change those perspectives – and teach men (and women) to speak out against rape myths (e.g., women who drink at parties are “asking for it”) and to intervene if someone is at risk of being assaulted.