Grievance Process for Formal Complaints of Sexual Harassment
The following grievance process complies with 34 CFR § 106.45 of Title IX. All processes, provisions, and rules stated in this policy apply equally to both parties—complainants and respondents.
Rockford University will treat complainants equitably by providing the complainant and respondent with supportive measures throughout the grievance process, following the grievance process before imposing any disciplinary sanctions (or other actions that are not supportive measures) against a respondent, and providing remedies to a complainant where a determination of responsibility for sexual harassment has been made against a respondent.
The University grievance process relies upon an objective evaluation of all relevant evidence—including both inculpatory and exculpatory evidence. The University applies the preponderance of the evidence, which means that the evidence demonstrated in the grievance process demonstrates that it is more likely than not that the alleged conduct or policy violation occurred.
The University applies the same standard of evidence for formal complaints against students and employees, including faculty, and applies the same standard of evidence to all formal complaints of sexual harassment.
Determination of a party’s credibility will not be based on a person’s status as a complainant, respondent, or witness. The University presumes that the respondent is not responsible for the alleged conduct until a determination regarding responsibility at the conclusion of the grievance process.
All University employees involved in the Title IX investigation and grievance process have received the appropriate training to participate in the Title IX grievance process, and training materials have been made publicly available on the University Title IX training webpage. Training topics include, but are not limited to, the definition of sexual harassment under Title IX, steps to conducting a Title IX investigation and grievance process, and how to serve impartially, including by avoiding prejudgment of facts, conflicts of interest, and bias.
If a complainant or respondent considers the University’s treatment of a formal complaint of sexual harassment may constitute discrimination on the basis of sex under Title IX, they may file a report of sex discrimination with the Title IX Coordinator.
Conflicts of Interest
Rockford University employees participating in the Title IX grievance process including the Title IX Coordinator, investigators, decision-makers, and informal resolution facilitators as well as external parties employed by the University to complete Title IX investigation and adjudication functions (hearings, appeals, and informal resolution options) are prohibited from having a conflict of interest or bias for or against complainants or respondents generally or as an individual complainant or respondent.
In an effort to avoid potential conflicts of interest, the University may provide the names and titles of internal and external Title IX investigators and adjudicators to the parties at the initiation of the investigation, informal resolution process, or hearing. Such information will be provided no less than five (5) days before any meeting or hearing between the party and the investigator or adjudicator. The complainant or respondent may request the removal of an investigator or adjudicator on the grounds of personal bias or other conflicts of interest by submitting a written statement to the Title IX Coordinator setting forth the basis for the request no more than three (3) days after receiving notice of the identity of the individual involved in the Title IX grievance process. The Title IX Coordinator will review the written statement and make a determination if there is a conflict of interest. Appropriate steps will be taken to ensure that no conflict of interest exists on the part of anyone involved in the Title IX investigation, hearing, appeals, or informal resolution processes. If a conflict of interest exists, another individual will be assigned to the appropriate role. If a conflict of interest exists between the complainant or respondent and the Title IX Coordinator, reports should be directed to the University president. If the University President is a party to the allegation or has a conflict of interest with respect to an allegation, the Chair of the Board of Trustees for the University shall ensure that the University puts in place appropriate safeguards under the circumstances to ensure that the University promptly and equitably responds to the allegation, including, but not limited to appointment of alternate individuals to oversee adherence to the policy.
Timelines for the Grievance Process
Rockford University aims to complete the Title IX grievance process, including appeals and informal resolution processes, in a reasonably prompt time frame. Generally, the University will conclude the grievance process within ninety (90) days.
The University reserves the right to allow for the temporary delay of the grievance process or the limited extension of time frames for good cause with written notice to the complainant and the respondent of the delay or extension and the reasons for the action. Good cause may include considerations such as the absence of the party, a party’s advisor, or a witness; concurrent law enforcement activity; or the need for language assistance or accommodation of disabilities.
I. Written Notice
Upon receipt of a formal complaint, Rockford University will provide a written notice of allegations to both parties, if known, simultaneously. Generally, the Title IX Coordinator provides the parties with written notice within seventy-two (72) hours of receiving a formal complaint.
The notice includes the following information:
- Notice of the allegation of sexual harassment, as defined in Definitions this policy, containing sufficient details known at the time, including:
- Identities of the parties involved in the incident (if known);
- Conduct allegedly constituting a policy violation;
- Date and location of the alleged incident (if known).
- Sufficient time for each party to prepare a response before any initial interview.
- Explanation of each party’s right to an advisor of their choice, who may be, but is not required to be, an attorney. The advisor may participate during the grievance process, subject to limitations established by the University. See Right to an Advisor.
- Explanation of each party’s right to inspect and review all evidence gathered during the investigation.
- Reference to the sections of this policy which prohibit knowingly making false statements or knowingly submitting false information during the grievance process.
- Statement that the respondent is presumed not to be responsible for the alleged conduct unless and until a determination of responsibility is final.
- Statement that a determination of responsibility will be made at the conclusion of the grievance process.
- Provide a copy of the University Policy on Sexual Misconduct & Sexual Harassment, which outlines the grievance process utilized to address alleged incidents of sexual harassment under Title IX.
- List of on-campus and off-campus support resources for complainants.
If, during the course of the investigation, the University decides to investigate allegations about the complainant or respondent that are not included in the initial notice provided to the parties, the University will provide written notice of the additional allegations to the parties whose identities are known.
II. Investigation of Formal Complaints
Rockford University is obligated to investigate formal complaints of sexual harassment. Generally, the University will complete the Title IX investigation within thirty (30) business days. The University will inform the parties of the name and title of the assigned investigator in the written notices of investigative interview issued to the parties.
Role of Rockford University & the Parties
During the investigation, the burden of proof and the burden of gathering evidence sufficient to reach a determination regarding responsibility rest on the University and not on the parties.
Both parties are provided with an equal opportunity to present witnesses, including fact and expert witnesses, and other inculpatory and exculpatory evidence during the grievance process. The University will not restrict the ability of either party to discuss the allegations under investigation or to gather and present relevant evidence.
The University is prohibited from accessing, considering, disclosing, or otherwise using a party’s records that are made or maintained by a physician, psychiatrist, psychologist, or other recognized professional or paraprofessional acting in the professional’s or paraprofessional’s capacity, or assisting in that capacity, and which are made and maintained in connection with the provision of treatment to the party, unless the University obtains the party’s voluntary, written consent to do so for the grievance process outlined in this policy.
Participation of the Parties in the Investigation Process
The University will provide written notice to a party who is invited and expected to participate in any investigative interviews, hearings, or other meetings. This written notice will include the date, time, location, names of participants, and purpose of the meeting and be provided not less than five (5) days prior to the meeting, providing the party with sufficient time to prepare.
Parties may not attend interviews of any other party or witness or any meeting or hearing related to the investigation, unless invited and expected to participate by the University.
Prior to completion of the investigative report at the conclusion of the investigation, all parties have the opportunity to have not more than one other person present during any grievance proceeding, including the opportunity to be accompanied to any grievance-related meeting or proceeding by an advisor of their choice, who may be an attorney. A party may only be accompanied by their advisor during the live hearing. The University does not limit the choice or presence of advisor for either the complainant or respondent in any meeting or grievance proceeding, including investigative interviews. However, the University reserves the right to establish restrictions regarding the extent to which the advisor may participate in the proceedings, which will apply equally to both parties. Learn more information about Rights to an Advisor.
All parties and their advisors will be given an equal opportunity to inspect and review all evidence gathered during the investigation that is directly related to the allegations raised in the formal complaint, including evidence upon which the University does not intend to rely in reaching a determination regarding responsibility as well as inculpatory and exculpatory evidence, regardless of the source. The evidence subject to inspection and review will be provided either in electronic format or hard copy to the parties and their advisors, if any. The parties will have ten (10) days to submit a written response regarding the investigation evidence. The investigator will consider the parties’ responses prior to completion of the investigative report.
The University may redact confidential portions of the investigation file or require the parties and their advisors to execute nondisclosure agreements to preserve the confidentiality of confidential information prior to release of the investigation file to the parties and their advisors.
All of the evidence which was provided to the parties for inspection and review will be made available at any hearing related to the formal complaint to provide each party the equal opportunity to refer to such evidence during the hearing, including for purposes of cross-examination.
The parties may submit any additional evidence prior to the investigator finalizing the investigative report with a copy provided to the other party and their advisor.
The Title IX investigator will create an investigative report that fairly summarizes relevant evidence.
Upon completion, investigator will send the investigative report to each party and the party’s advisor, if any, at least ten (10) days prior to a scheduled hearing, in electronic format or hard copy. Upon review, the parties may submit a written response to the decision-maker not less than five (5) days prior to the scheduled hearing, with a copy to the other party and their advisor. The other party may reply to the written response prior to or during the scheduled hearing.
The investigator may include recommended findings or conclusions in the investigative report, but the decision-maker is under an independent obligation to objectively evaluate relevant evidence in making a determination.
III. Hearing Process
Live hearings are a mandatory part of the Title IX grievance process. A single hearing officer or panel of hearing officers will act as the decision-maker(s) at Rockford University Title IX hearings and must not be the same person as the Title IX Coordinator or investigator. The University will provide specific procedural rules for the live hearing to the parties and their advisors at least five (5) days prior to the scheduled hearing.
Live hearings may be conducted with all parties physically present in the same geographic location. In this instance, at the request of either party, the University will arrange for the live hearing to occur with the parties located in separate rooms with technology enabling the decision-maker(s) and the parties to simultaneously see and hear the part or witness answering the questions.
The University also reserves the right to require or permit any or all parties, witnesses and other participants to appear at the live hearing virtually, with technology enabling participants to simultaneously see and hear each other.
The University will create an audio recording, audiovisual recording, or transcript of any live hearing and make it available to the parties for inspection and review.
Both parties have the right to present relevant fact and expert witnesses as well as inculpatory and exculpatory evidence at the hearing. Any evidence not included in the investigation file should be provided to the decision-maker and the other party and their advisor no less than ten (10) days prior to the hearing.
During the live hearing, the decision-maker will permit each party’s advisor to ask the other party and any witnesses any relevant questions and follow-up questions, including questions which challenge credibility.
Cross-examination at the live hearing must be conducted directly, orally, and in real time by the party’s advisor, and cross-examination may never be conducted by a party personally.
Only relevant cross-examination and other questions may be asked of a party or witness. Before a complainant, respondent, or witness answers a cross-examination or other question, the decision-maker(s) must first determine whether the question is relevant and explain any decision to exclude a question as not relevant.
Questions and evidence about the complainant’s sexual predisposition or prior sexual behavior are not relevant, unless: 1.) such questions and evidence about the complainant’s prior sexual behavior are offered to prove that someone other than the respondent committed the conduct alleged by the complainant; or 2.) if the questions and evidence concern specific incidents of the complainant’s prior sexual behavior with respect to the respondent and are offered to prove consent.
Parties and witnesses will not be required to submit to cross-examination at the live hearing in order for their statements to be considered by the decision-maker(s). Therefore, any party or witness may choose not to offer evidence and/or answer questions at the hearing, either because they do not attend the hearing, or because they attend but refuse to participate in some or all questioning. The decision-maker(s) can rely on whatever relevant evidence is available through the investigation and hearing in making the ultimate determination of responsibility/non-responsibility. The decision-maker(s) may not draw an inference about the determination regarding responsibility based solely on a party’s or witness’s absence from a live hearing or refusal to answer cross-examination or other questions.
Hearings & Advisors
Apart from the advisor’s role in cross-examination, Rockford University reserves the right to restrict the extent to which advisors may participate in the proceedings.
If a party does not have an advisor present at the live hearing, the University will provide, without fee or charge to that party, an advisor of the University’s choice to conduct cross-examination on behalf of that party. The advisor may be, but is not required to be, an attorney.
The University will include details regarding the role of the advisors in the hearing procedural rules provided to the parties at least five (5) days prior to the scheduled hearing.
IV. Determination Regarding Responsibility
Following the live hearing, the decision-maker(s) will issue a written determination. To reach the determination, the decision-maker(s) will apply the preponderance of the evidence standard of evidence, as defined in Definitions.
The decision-maker(s) will issue the written determination to the parties simultaneously generally no more than ten (10) days after the conclusion of the live hearing. Copies will be sent to the parties and their advisors by email, certified mail, or overnight delivery service such as Federal Express, with receipt of acknowledgement.
The written determination will include the following information:
- Identification of the allegations potentially constituting sexual harassment, as defined on in Definitions;
- A description of the procedural steps taken from the receipt of the formal complaint through the determination, including any notifications to the parties, interviews with parties and witnesses, site visits, methods used to gather evidence, and hearings held;
- Findings of fact supporting the determination;
- Conclusions regarding the application of the University Code of Conduct, Faculty Handbook, Employee Handbook and/or this policy to the facts;
- A statement of, and rationale for, the result as to each allegation, including a determination regarding responsibility, any disciplinary sanctions to be imposed on the respondent, and whether remedies designed to restore or preserve equal access to the University education program or activity will be provided by the University to the complainant; and
- The University’s procedures and permissible bases for the complainant and respondent to appeal.
The determination is final either:
- On the date the University provides the parties with the written determination of an appeal, if an appeal was filed; or
- The date for filing an appeal expires without an appeal having been filed.
Either complainant or respondent may file a written notice of appeal of a determination of dismissal of a formal complaint within five (5) days after receiving the written determination or notice of dismissal. The notice of appeal must be delivered to the Title IX Coordinator within such 5-day period by email, personal delivery, certified mail or overnight delivery service.
A party may appeal from a) determination regarding responsibility, and b) Rockford University’s dismissal of a formal complaint or any allegations therein, on the following bases:
- Procedural irregularity that affected the outcome of the process;
- New evidence that was not reasonably available at the time the determination regarding responsibility or dismissal was made, that could affect the outcome of the process;
- The Title IX Coordinator, investigator(s), or decision-maker(s) had a conflict of interest or bias for or against complainants or respondents generally or the individual complainant or respondent that affected the outcome of the process; and
- The sanctions imposed fall outside the range of sanctions designated for this offense and the cumulative conduct history of the responding party.
In the event that a party files an appeal, the appeal decision-making body will generally consist of a panel of appeals decision-makers. The appeal decision-makers will be free of bias as well as conflict of interest and will not be the Title IX Coordinator, investigator involved in the investigation, or decision-maker who reached the determination regarding responsibility or dismissal. The appeal decision-maker will have received required training under Title IX.
The University will notify the other party in writing when an appeal is filed and implement appeal procedures equally for both parties, including a reasonable, equal opportunity to submit a written statement in support of, or challenging, the outcome.
The appealing party must submit a statement to the appeal decision-maker in support of the appeal within five (5) days of filing the notice of appeal with a copy to the other party and their advisor. Although the other party is not obligated to respond to the appealing party, should the other party wish to respond, the other party must submit a written response to the statement filed by the appealing party to the appeal decision-maker within five (5) days of receipt of the appealing party’s statement with a copy to the other party and their advisor.
No oral arguments will be held on the appeal unless so directed by the appeal decision-maker, in which case both parties’ advisors will be given an equal opportunity to present oral arguments.
The appeal decision-maker will issue a written decision simultaneously to both parties, describing the result and the rationale of the decision generally within ten (10) days of receiving the final written statements from the parties.
VI. Informal Resolutions
At any time prior to reaching a determination regarding responsibility, Rockford University offers complainants and respondents informal resolution options such as mediation, restorative justice, or other forms of alternative dispute resolution, which do not involve or require a full investigator and adjudication (hearing process). Informal resolution procedures are optional and may be used with the agreement of the involved parties when the University determines that it is appropriate.
In order for the University to proceed with informal resolution options, the University will:
- Provide the parties with a written notice disclosing the following:
- The allegations;
- The requirements of the informal resolution process, including the circumstances under which the informal resolution process would preclude the parties from resuming a formal complaint arising from the same allegations, provided, however, that at any time prior to agreeing to a resolution, any party has the right to withdraw from the informal resolution process and resume the grievance process with respect to the formal complaint; and
- Any consequences resulting from participating in the informal resolution process, including the records that will be maintained or could be shared;
- Obtain voluntary, written consent from the parties to the informal resolution process
The University will provide the parties with the specific guidelines corresponding to the various informal resolution options prior to the parties signing a written consent to the informal resolution process.
The University is prohibited from offering informal resolution options in cases which involve a University employee’s sexual harassment of a student, violence, or the parties are reluctant to participate in good faith.
The University is prohibited from requiring as a condition of enrollment or continuing enrollment, or employment or continuing employment, or enjoyment of any other right, waiver of the right to an investigation and adjudication of formal complaints of sexual harassment as outlined in this policy. Additionally, the University cannot require the parties to participate in an informal resolution process and generally does not offer an informal resolution process unless a formal complaint has been filed.
Rockford University will maintain for a period of seven years the following records:
- Each sexual harassment investigation, including any determination regarding responsibility, the audio recording, audiovisual recording, or transcript of the hearing, any disciplinary sanctions imposed on the respondent, as well as any remedies provided to the complainant designed to restore or preserve equal access to the University’s education program or activity;
- Any appeal and the result therefrom;
- Any informal resolution and the result therefrom; and
- All materials used to train Title IX Coordinators, investigators, decision-makers, and informal resolution facilitators. The University will make these training materials publicly available on its website at: https://www.rockford.edu/community/campus/titleix/title-ix-training-materials/
For each response to a report or formal complaint of sexual harassment, the University will create and maintain for a period of seven years, records of any actions, including any supportive measures taken. In each instance, the University will document the basis for its conclusion that its response was not deliberately indifferent and document that it has taken measures designed to restore or preserve equal access to the University’s education program or activity. If the University does not provide a complainant with supportive measures, then the University will document the reasons why such a response was not clearly unreasonable in light of the circumstances.