|FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
|3. What does the Department of Education do in
terms of sexual harassment complaints?
The Department of Education Office for Civil Rights
(OCR) is a governmental agency that handles
complaints against schools receiving government
funding that fail to take proper action to address
sexual harassment and retaliation. The OCR does
not handle complaints about the individual
The OCR complaint procedure usually requires that
you provide the details of your complaint within 180
days of the harassment. The OCR will not take the
case if you are in the middle of the complaint
process with your school or if a similar agency is
already handling it. Once the school's process is
completed, or other agency's resolution process is
completed, you will have 60 days to refile your
complaint with the OCR. The OCR will then
determine if it wants to defer to the result reached in
the school or agency's complaint process.
The OCR will review your complaint to see if it meets
their requirements. If the OCR decides to take the
complaint, it will conduct an investigation by talking
to people at the school and any witnesses they have.
If sexual harassment is found, the OCR will decide if
the school had adequate opportunity to address the
harassment. It may allow the school to handle the
matter or work with the school and the victim to try
and get the matter resolved. The OCR strives to
complete its complaint process within 180 days.
You are not required to file a complaint with the OCR
before filing a lawsuit.
The OCR does not handle complaints regarding
bullying unless the bullying was based on
discrimination: the victim's sex, race, color, national
origin, disability, or age.
4. I am being harassed at work. Can I complain to
the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission?
Yes, if you feel you have been sexually harassed on
the job, you can file a complaint with the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The
EEOC handles workplace harassment and
discrimination claims, but it does not handle
harassment that occurs in schools. The EEOC has
set up a special website specifically for youth in
employment situations who may be experiencing
sexual harassment or discrimination. Be sure to
5. The school administrators have said they doubt
my "ability to graduate" if I pursue a complaint
about the sexual harassment. Is there anything I
can do about their threats to keep me quiet?
It is unlawful for the school to retaliate against you for
filing a complaint. You should take the same steps
you would take to complain about the harasser (See
Question #1). If it is the administrator who does the
hiring and firing who has done the retaliating, you
should still take action to complain and to protect
yourself. Consider contacting an attorney or the
Department of Education Office for Civil Rights
Please check back for new Questions and
Answers about Bullying and Harassment.
|1. What should I do if I am being sexually
harassed or bullied at my school?
Every situation is different, so it is important to
consider all of your options and decide what is
best for you in your particular circumstances. If
you are under 18, the first thing you should do is
talk to your parents about the situation. Even if
you are not under 18, one of the first things you
should do is tell someone who can help you
determine the best action to take. Document
what exactly has happened. In the event the
harasser has physically harmed you in any
way or has threatened to harm you, report it to
the police immediately.
In a sexual harassment situation, if you feel safe
doing so, confront the person who is harassing
you. Confronting someone like your teacher or
professor can be difficult. You can be as blunt or
as polite as you need to be as long as you get
the point across that the conduct is unwelcome,
and it needs to stop immediately. You do not
have to confront the harasser if you do not feel
safe doing so.
What does your school handbook say about
sexual harassment and bullying? Is there a
process listed? If so, begin that process.
Document whom you speak with and what they
tell you. If you are complaining about sexual
harassment, it is important that your complaint
gets made to the person who does the hiring
and firing for your school: the dean, the
principal, the school board. Follow the process
outlined in your handbook, but don't be
surprised if attempts are made to keep you from
making your complaint to the person required to
hear it -- the person who does the hiring and
firing. At every stage of the process you follow in
the handbook, send a letter that outlines your
complaint to the person designated in the
handbook, and then send a copy of that same
letter to the specific person who does the hiring
and firing. Under the law regarding sexual
harassment, the school administrator who
handles the hiring, firing, and disciplinary
actions for the school must have "actual notice"
of the sexual harassment and be given a chance
to take remedial action.
If anyone at the school retaliates against you or
threatens you for making your complaint, that is
another instance that you should complain
about to the hiring and firing administrator.
Because every situation is different, what works
for one person in her situation may not work for
you. There also can be obstacles in your way
that prevent you from getting help from your
school. If the harassment or bullying is not
addressed and it continues, get help. Especially
if you have been physically harmed, report it to
the police and principal. You can also call an
attorney who handles Title IX Sexual
Harassment and bullying, or for sexual
harassment, contact the Department of
Education Office for Civil Rights.
2. If I decide to try mediation, do I need to have
an attorney represent me? Will the mediator
give me legal advice if I need it?
You do not have to have an attorney with you in
order to participate in mediation of a sexual
harassment or a bullying dispute. However,
many people will choose to have an attorney
represent them. If the other party in the
mediation has an attorney, it would be a good
idea for you to have one.
The mediator may be an attorney, but he or she
is not there to provide legal advice. Some
mediators will give their opinion about the law
and your case, and it is important to remember
the mediator is not your lawyer. He or she is
there to help the parties to reach a mutually
acceptable resolution and must remain neutral.
For more information about mediation, please
visit our Mediation Page.
Usually it is not advisable for a Student Mediator
to mediate a dispute between a bully/harasser
and a victim.
|The information provided in this FAQ is for educational purposes only and is not legal advice.
For questions about your particular situation, please contact an attorney, EEOC, or the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.