The University of New Mexico’s Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) has implemented new processes designed to speed up discrimination claims and departmental investigations.
The new procedures, which went into effect June 15, will help speed up sexual assault cases that took exceedingly long to complete according to the Department of Justice report. OEO Director Francie Cordova says the office was working on these changes from day one after she started with OEO before the DOJ released its findings.
"I am really pleased to see the new procedure going into effect," she said.
“The claims procedure we’ve been using for many, many years really followed the traditional civil rights investigative model that the EEOC and state’s human rights division always used,” said Heather Cowan, Title IX coordinator in the OEO. “The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the Department of Education had a different model and that’s the one we’re trying to model our new process on, which is to have the process for complainants and respondents be as identical as possible.”
In a Discrimination Claims procedure, the first step is a Notice of Complaint, which may be filed by any student, staff, faculty member or applicant who believes that they have experienced an action that violates their civil rights or is discriminatory.
The OEO will then meet with the complainant, who may choose one of three options: withdraw the complaint; educational conference; or a formal investigation.
If a formal investigation is chosen, the following steps will take place:
- OEO determines jurisdiction
- Complainant and respondent are notified if the case is jurisdictional
- Complainant and respondent are interviewed
- OEO conducts the investigation
- OEO will provide a draft report to complainant and respondent
- The complainant(s) and respondent(s) will then have five business days to respond and provide new factual information
Afterward, OEO will issue a Preliminary Letter of Determination (PLOD). Once completed, the parties will have two business days to respond. OEO will then write a Final Letter of Determination (FLOD). After the conclusion of any appeals to the president, OEO will close the investigative file and send notice to the parties involved.
A similar investigative process will be conducted for Departmental Investigations. OEO officials say the new procedure should allow the completion of investigations to conclude in 60 days.
An example of the expedited procedure involves the review process by complainant and respondent, each of whom will now have five days to review the draft report.
Under the old system, the information was compiled into a letter and the person filing the complaint had two weeks to review and respond. Additionally, in the new system OEO will try to reach the accused at an earlier stage in the investigation. Both parties will be informed of the investigations’ progress keeping both parties apprised of its status, and giving each a chance to ask questions.
UNM has also reviewed and changed internal processes and has added additional investigators to help speed up individual investigations.
“Internally, we built in some processes and templates so we can try and shorten our actual investigative timeframe, which of course is the bulk of time an investigation takes,” said Cowan. “It’s designed to both speed up the process and to provide more due process with equitable treatment for both parties."
UNM’s OEO is the campus entity designated to ensure compliance with all University policies that apply to civil rights. The Office houses the OEO director and ADA coordinator, Title IX coordinator and Clery Act compliance officer. Their mission is to take necessary action to prevent, correct, and educate in relation to behavior that violates University civil rights policies or impacts the educational or employment environment. They can be reached at Office of Equal Opportunity, where the complete new procedure can be downloaded.