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Harvard Law School Faces Discrimination Probe of Policies

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April 25 (Bloomberg) -- Harvard Law School is under federal investigation after a Boston lawyer filed a discrimination complaint regarding the school’s response to rape and harassment of women.

Harvard Law School’s policies for investigating such cases don’t meet U.S. standards for timeliness and clarity, Wendy Murphy, an adjunct professor at the New England School of Law who filed the complaint, said in a telephone interview today. As a result, Harvard’s law school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been under investigation by the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights since December, she said.

The violations at Harvard can be found at schools throughout the U.S., said Murphy, who took similar action against the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey. Murphy contacted the Education Department in September after Harvard hired her to address an issue related to Title IX, the 1972 federal law that bans discrimination against women on campus, she said.

“It was in connection with that work that I discovered these violations,” said Murphy, who declined to give specifics on her work at Harvard. “It became necessary to file the complaint.”

The law school, founded in 1817, holds women to too high a standard to prove sexual assault and harassment, Murphy said she alleged in her complaint. The school also incorrectly tells women that its own probe must follow that of local police and prosecutors, a practice that often needlessly delays the resolution of campus investigations, Murphy said.

Harvard’s Response

Harvard takes sexual assault seriously and is fully assisting the Education Department’s investigation of its policies, said Robb London, a spokesman for the law school.

“We have a responsibility to protect and maintain the safety and well-being of our students and to offer complete support and assistance to any student who makes us aware of harm,” he said in an e-mailed statement. “That responsibility includes making sure that we have effective processes for ensuring a safe environment and for investigating any allegation of assault expeditiously and fairly, followed by appropriate disciplinary action.”

Murphy said the law school has also failed to establish a clear schedule for its investigations of rape, assault and sexual harassment. These policies contribute to an environment where women who say they have been assaulted may feel uncomfortable and unsafe, which is a separate legal issue, she said.

Jim Bradshaw, an Education Department spokesman, confirmed that the agency is investigating Harvard Law School’s compliance with Title IX.

Yale Investigation

Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, is also being probed by the Education Department’s civil rights office after 16 current and former students filed complaints. Yale created an advisory committee on “campus climate” earlier this month that will be led by Margaret H. Marshall, a former chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court and former Yale trustee, the school said April 15.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden announced earlier this month that the Education Department is giving universities stiffer guidance for preventing and responding to sexual assaults on campus. The guidance stresses that allegations of assault must be addressed promptly.

The Harvard investigation was reported earlier in the Harvard Crimson, the university’s student newspaper.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jonathan Kaufman at Jkaufman17@bloomberg.net.

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