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Does Judicial Immunity Apply to Title IX Proceedings?

College Campus

The Issue of Absolute Immunity in Title IX Proceedings

A lack of uniform protocol can make it challenging to grapple with Title IX complexities at colleges and universities, making it all the more crucial for students to understand the legal repercussions involved. In 2023, numerous Title IX rulings continue to beg the question: Does judicial immunity apply to Title IX and other non-courtroom hearings?

In this blog, we’ll review two recent Title IX rulings to examine the question of “absolute immunity” in non-courtroom proceedings, and how these rulings may impact similar proceedings going forward. Before diving into Title IX rulings, it’s necessary to first understand the concept of judicial immunity.

Does Judicial Immunity Apply to Title IX Proceedings?

Judicial immunity is a form of legal immunity that protects judges and judiciary employees from lawsuits brought against them for official conduct in office. The idea is to allow such individuals to perform their duties without fear of constant litigation—but does this protection extend to Title IX proceedings within universities?

What Is Title IX?

Title IX is a federal law in the U.S. that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities that receive federal funding. It includes provisions for addressing sexual harassment and sexual violence on college campuses and other educational institutions. Students who experience sexual harassment or assault on campus can file a Title IX complaint with their college or university.

Title IX complaints and investigations are generally handled by the educational institution's designated Title IX coordinator or investigator, not by judges. Therefore, judicial immunity may not directly apply to students who bring Title IX cases against alleged abusers.

However, the specific procedures and protections available to students who bring Title IX cases can vary by institution and be subject to local, state, and federal laws, which is why it's essential for young adults pursuing higher education to understand their school's unique policies and consult with a skilled student defense attorney as soon as possible.

Khan v. Yale

In Khan v. Yale, the plaintiff, a student (Khan) at Yale University, sued the university and several of its employees for their handling of a Title IX investigation against him.

He then sought to litigate his accuser’s sexual misconduct accusations for a third time by suing for defamation and tortious interference, arguing that absolute immunity should not be extended to testimony provided in university disciplinary proceedings.

In other words, Khan held that because Title IX proceedings are not quasi-judicial in nature, his accuser and Yale University staff are not protected from subsequent lawsuits related to their testimony. The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in Khan’s favor, holding that the case was not quasi-judicialdue to a lack of “essential procedural safeguards.”

Despite the Connecticut Supreme Court's decision, Khan didn’t completely dismiss the possibility of considering Title IX proceedings as quasi-judicial. Another landmark case in Pennsylvania was decided mere days apart, setting a precedent for the future of Title IX in U.S. colleges and universities.

McCarthy v. Jauregui

McCarthy v. Jauregui is a Pennsylvania case that arose when a student at King's College, Devin McCarthy, filed a Title IX complaint against Daniel Boye, who was represented by Raul Jauregui. Boye and Jauregui went on to file a civil lawsuit for defamation against Debra McCarthy, the victim’s mother, for asking King’s College to open a Title IX investigation into her daughter’s alleged sexual assault.

After Boye and Jauregui tried to sue university officials, the judge ruled that the Title IX disciplinary proceedings at King’s College were quasi-judicial in nature, contrary to Khan ruling in Connecticut.

Are Title IX Proceedings Quasi-Judicial?

Both the Khan and McCarthy cases raise the issue of whether university officials conducting Title IX proceedings should receive judicial immunity. While neither case appears to resolve this question, both have contributed to ongoing debates surrounding how Title IX proceedings are handled by colleges and universities.

In this context, judicial immunity is a complex and evolving area of law. It's crucial for accused students to seek sound counsel from a qualified attorney to understand their rights and avoid life-altering academic and criminal penalties.

Although the rulings in Khan v. Yale and McCarthy v. Jauregui did not establish a definitive standard regarding judicial immunity in Title IX proceedings, these lawsuits highlight the complex nature of this issue and the need for further legal clarification, making it all the more important for students accused of Title IX violations to secure trusted representation to defend their rights and preserve their hard-earned reputations.

Despite stark differences in the final rulings in Khan and McCarthy, legal experts argue that the different rulings are consistent under U.S. law. The distinction lies in varying characteristics in the internal proceedings conducted at Yale and King’s College. The key distinction is that while McCarthy was brought under the 2020 Title IX rules, the Khan case was brought under the Dear Colleague Letter rules, establishing a primary difference between the two regarding judicial immunity.

Although neither case set a nationwide precedent regarding whether Title IX proceedings are quasi-judicial, there's a good chance that future cases will further impact the issue by defining a more established framework for Title IX lawsuits and other non-courtroom proceedings in higher education and beyond.

Aggressive Defense for Accused Students

Attorney Julie A. Nociolo

At Hacker Murphy, our firm has extensive experience defending hardworking students in New York and beyond. Our skilled attorneys have successfully represented students and protected them against reputational damage at a variety of top-tier universities, including Cornell University, Brown University, and many others. With an in-depth knowledge of civil litigation and criminal defense, you can count on our seasoned advocates to deliver the passionate defense you deserve.

If you’re accused of violating Title IX, securing strong representation is a must. Call (518) 284-3183 to schedule a consultation with a trusted NY attorney.