Complaints and appeals

This information applies to anyone (students, faculty, staff, applicants, and all other members of the community) wishing to file a complaint related to harassment or discrimination, sexual harassment, or Title IX as outlined on this website. This webpage describes, in general terms, the process involved in considering and investigating typical complaints brought to the Office of Equity and Diversity (OED). Circumstances in individual cases vary and may require different handling, within the discretion of the university.

For purposes of our complaint process, the individual alleged to have been subjected to harassment or discrimination is referred to as the “Reporting Party” and the person against whom the complaint is filed is the “Respondent.” OED investigates complaints brought against faculty and staff respondents only. Complaints against students involving protected classes are handled by the Title IX Office.

Cooperation and no retaliation

University faculty, staff and students are required to cooperate in the investigative process by responding promptly, completely and accurately to requests made either for an interview or information and evidence relevant to an investigation, and are prohibited from retaliating against anyone who has brought forth a complaint as outlined on this webpage, or against anyone who has participated as a witness in an OED investigation. Retaliation will not be tolerated. If any Reporting Party, witness or Respondent believes they are the victim of retaliation, that should be reported to OED immediately for determination as to whether a separate investigation into the alleged retaliation is warranted.

Complaint process

Initial interview

If you feel someone has sexually harassed you, or has discriminated against or harassed you because of your membership in a protected class (such as race, gender, sexual identity, military status, marital status, age, national origin or religion), call our office at (213) 740-5086. We will arrange for an investigator to interview you. Although we encourage you to make an appointment, complaint investigators are frequently available for walk-in appointments as well.

To make an appointment call (213) 740-5086 at UPC or (323) 442-2020 at HSC, or email the office at oed@usc.edu. This appointment does not automatically initiate an investigation, but will serve to determine the nature of any concerns, and start the process of determining how best to address those concerns.

You are encouraged to submit – either before or during your initial interview – any relevant information such as text messages, Facebook postings, emails, or voicemail messages; you are also encouraged to write down the names and/or descriptions of potential witnesses.

While some questions can be answered by phone, your inquiry does not become an official complaint until our office has conducted this initial in-depth interview. After the interview, we will advise you whether our office will investigate your complaint. In some cases, your complaint may be referred to a more appropriate office for handling if it does not fall within our purview.

Reporting prohibited conduct to the university

Reports of prohibited conduct involving students, staff, and faculty are made to the Office of Equity and Diversity | Title IX at (213) 740-5086 or oed@usc.edu. The Office of Equity and Diversity | Title IX is located in the USC Credit Union Building, 3720 South Flower Street, 2nd Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0704.

The university strongly encourages prompt reporting of prohibited conduct. Prompt reporting allows for the collection and preservation of evidence, including witness statements, physical evidence, digital evidence, and evidence from social media. The ability to effectively investigate and respond is limited by delay. Delay may also preclude remedy under state and federal law.

Reports of prohibited conduct are documented in compliance with the Clery Act, a federal law requiring data collection of crime within the campus geography. Personal information is NOT documented; only type of conduct, and the time, date, and location.

Duty to report prohibited conduct to the university

Any faculty or staff member who receives information about prohibited conduct involving a student, or employee is required to immediately notify the Office of Equity and Diversity | Title IX at (213) 740-5086 or oed@usc.edu.

Notification to the Office of Equity and Diversity | Title IX should include

  1. all known information about the alleged prohibited conduct;
  2. the names of the Reporting Party(ies) and the Respondent(s), if known; and
  3. any additional information that would enable the Office of Equity and Diversity | Title IX to respond to the allegation.

The Office of Equity and Diversity | Title IX conducts investigations; the faculty or staff member reporting the alleged prohibited conduct may not investigate or resolve the matter except under the guidance of OED.

Health care professionals and all individuals statutorily exempt from reporting should respect confidentiality.

Anonymous reports

Anonymous reports of prohibited conduct may be made to the Office of Equity and Diversity | Title IX. Personally identifiable information is not required to report.

Depending on the amount of information available about the incident and/or the individuals involved, the university’s ability to respond to an anonymous report may be significantly limited. The university will attempt to take appropriate steps to protect the safety of the university community based on the information reasonably available.

Reporting prohibited conduct to government agencies

Reporting Parties may file reports and/or complaints with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) at contact.center@dfeh.ca.gov or www.dfeh.ca.gov, or the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) at 1(800) 669-4000 (TTY 1(800) 669-6820) or www.eeoc.gov. Complaints must be filed with the DFEH no later than one year from the date of the alleged prohibited conduct. If the DFEH believes that a complaint is valid and settlement efforts fail, the DFEH may seek an administrative hearing before the California Fair Employment and Housing Commission (FEHC) or file a lawsuit in court. Both the FEHC and the courts have the authority to award monetary and non-monetary relief in meritorious cases.

Any person who believes that the university as a federal contractor has violated nondiscrimination or affirmative action obligations may contact the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) at 1(800)397-6251 (TTY: 1(202)693-1337).

Reports and/or complaints about the university’s handling of prohibited conduct may be filed with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S. Department of Education at (415) 486-5555 or ocr.sanfrancisco@ed.gov. OCR complaints should be filed within 180 days of the last date of alleged discrimination. OCR may extend this deadline in a variety of circumstances.

Reporting prohibited conduct to law enforcement

The university encourages anyone who witnesses or experiences prohibited conduct to make a report to local law enforcement.

To report prohibited conduct, individuals may contact DPS. When prohibited conduct is reported to DPS, DPS immediately notifies the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). The Reporting Party can request their name not be provided to LAPD and DPS will honor that request. LAPD (or the appropriate law enforcement agency if outside of the Los Angeles area) has the responsibility for the investigation of this conduct. DPS does not have investigative jurisdiction over prohibited conduct.

An individual who wishes to pursue criminal action in addition to, or instead of, making a report to the university may contact law enforcement directly by calling:

  • 911 (for emergencies)
  • The Los Angeles Police Department at 877-ASK-LAPD

DPS and the Office of Equity and Diversity | Title IX will assist any individual in reporting to law enforcement regardless of where the prohibited conduct occurred.

An individual has the right to report, or to decline to report, prohibited conduct to law enforcement.

Jurisdiction

OED investigates alleged conduct that occurs on or off university property; if:

  1. the conduct occurred in connection with a university or university-sponsored or -recognized program or activity; or
  2. the conduct has or reasonably may have the effect of creating a hostile educational or work environment for a member of the university community.

General principles of adjudication

Presumption of non-responsibility

The investigation is a neutral, fact-finding process. Reports are presumed made in good faith. Further, Respondents are presumed not responsible. This presumption is overcome only when a preponderance of the evidence establishes that the Respondent committed the prohibited conduct charged.

Standard of proof

The standard of proof to find a violation of this policy is a preponderance of the evidence.

Preponderance of the evidence means that based on the totality of evidence and reasonable inferences drawn therefrom, it is more likely than not that the Respondent committed the prohibited conduct charged. Put another way, the preponderance of the evidence means such evidence that when weighed against that opposed to it, has the more convincing force and the greater probability of truth.

Evidence

Rules of evidence and discovery used in state and federal proceedings are not applicable to the investigatory process for prohibited conduct. The investigation will consider information that is relevant, material, and temporally proximate to the conduct at issue; in other words, information that makes the existence of a fact or inference more or less likely.

Role of an advisor

Throughout the process, both the Reporting Party and the Respondent may use an advisor of their choice. The advisor may be any person – friend, mental health professional, certified victim’s advocate, attorney – or an individual provided by the university. An advisor may not be a witness or have any conflicting role in the process or with a party.

The role of the advisor is to provide support and assistance in understanding and navigating the investigation process. To protect the privacy of those involved, all advisors are required to sign a confidentiality agreement prior to attending an interview or otherwise participating in the university’s investigatory process.

The university’s duty is to the faculty member, staff member, or student, not the advisor. All communication is made directly with the employee or student. The process will not be unreasonably delayed to accommodate the schedule of the advisor.

The advisor may not testify in or obstruct an interview, author written submissions, or disrupt the process. The investigator has the right to determine what constitutes appropriate behavior of an advisor and take reasonable steps to ensure compliance with this policy.

Multiple reporting parties and/or respondents

When incidents involve more than one Reporting Party and/or Respondent, the investigator will determine whether the investigations should be conducted separately or in one, consolidated investigation.

Conflict of interest

All parties have a right to a fair and impartial investigation.

If either party believes there is a conflict of interest involving the assigned investigator (findings of fact) they should immediately notify the Executive Director of the Office of Equity and Diversity. If either party believes there is a conflict of interest involving the Executive Director of the Office of Equity and Diversity or designee (findings of policy violation), they should immediately notify the Associate Senior Vice President, Human Resources. If appropriate, the Associate Senior Vice President may designate different individuals to complete the investigative. All those involved in an investigation or adjudications must be properly trained in the requirements of Title IX and this policy.

The Office of Equity and Diversity | Title IX has an independent duty to recuse itself if a known conflict exists.

Investigation

Notification

If the university proceeds to a formal investigation, the Respondent is notified of the investigation and the alleged policy violation(s) in writing.

Fact-gathering

It is the responsibility of the university, not the parties, to gather information and interview witnesses.

The investigator will meet separately with the Reporting Party and Respondent. The investigator will ask both parties for all information related to the alleged prohibited conduct.

During the course of the investigation, the investigator may identify additional witnesses and gather supplemental evidence. The investigator has the discretion to determine how many witnesses will be interviewed, as well as the order of such interviews.

Faculty and staff have the responsibility to participate fully in university investigations.

In most circumstances, written statements are not accepted in lieu of interviews of parties and witnesses.

Notice to other university officials

Designated individuals, including the Reporting Party, Respondent, Associate Senior Vice President for Human Resources (in cases against staff) and the Provost (in cases against faculty) will be notified of the status of ongoing investigations. When appropriate, OED will also notify managers and the senior vice president of the administrative unit or the dean.

Evidence review

At the conclusion of the investigation, the Reporting Party and the Respondent are given an individual and separate opportunity to review and respond to the information collected.

While reviewing the evidence, both parties are encouraged to submit questions to the investigator to be asked of the other party.

Information excluded from review is not considered in making findings of fact or determining responsibility.

Additionally, during the appellate phase the Office of Equity and Diversity | Title IX will provide to each party an individual and separate opportunity to review the evidence collected and the investigatory report. 

Findings

The investigator will:

  1. review all evidence and determine what information is relevant and material to the incident
  2. make findings of fact, and
  3. based on those findings of fact, in consultation with the Executive Director of the Office of Equity and Diversity or their designee and using a preponderance standard, determine whether a Respondent violated university policy.

Both parties are notified of the outcome of the investigation in writing.

Appeal

Both parties have a right to appeal. An appeal must be submitted to the Director of the Office of Equity and Diversity within 10 days of receipt of the findings letter from the investigator.

Appeals filed by staff members must state one or more of the following criteria as the reason for the appeal:

  1. That new evidence has become available which is sufficient to alter the decision and which the person filing the appeal was not aware of or which could not have been reasonably obtained at the time of the original review.
  2. That there were procedural errors that had a material impact on the fairness of the investigation.
  3. That the conclusion and sanction are not supported by the findings, or the findings are not supported by the evidence in light of the whole record.

Please note that OED does not determine what discipline, if any, is appropriate, regardless of whether respondent is staff, faculty or a student. Any disciplinary action which may be taken as the result of findings made in these investigations is made in accordance with university policies, which include the Faculty Handbook, staff employment policies, discrimination and sexual harassment policies, and SCampus.

In regard to disciplinary action against faculty, the Respondent may file a written appeal before 10 business days have elapsed with the Vice Provost, as set forth in the Faculty Handbook.

Should a party intending to appeal believe they have been given inadequate time to prepare their written documents, a written request for extension of time may be submitted to the Executive Director of the Office of Equity and Diversity at oed@usc.edu. The request must be submitted in writing within the 10-business-day appeal period, and should include the rationale for requesting the extension along with a proposed date by which all appeal documents will be submitted.  Requests for extension of time will be considered on their merits and will not be granted automatically. When an extension is granted, opposing parties to the initial review may be notified.

The appeal should indicate the specific grounds for the appeal, supporting arguments and documentation, and any other relevant information the Reporting Party or Respondent wishes to include.

Both parties should be aware that all appeals are documentary reviews in which no oral testimony is taken and no oral argument takes place. Generally, appeals are determined solely on the merits of the documents submitted. Appeals documents therefore should be as complete as possible.

Upon receipt of the written appeal, the other principal party to the original complaint (Reporting Party or Respondent) will be notified in writing by email to their official USC email address within two business days, and provided 10 business days to respond in writing to the appeal. The response should be sent to oed@usc.edu. Neither party is required to respond to an appeal. Not responding to an appeal does not suggest agreement with the appeal.

After reviewing all documentation submitted, the Executive Director of the Office of Equity and Diversity or designee will make the decision on appeal, and will notify both parties.

Upon review of the appeal, the Executive Director or designee may (a) uphold the initial decision in its entirety, (b) send the case back to the investigator for further investigation, or (c) reverse specific findings of fact not supported by the evidence in light of the whole record, or conclusions of policy violations not supported by the findings. If new evidence is submitted and the Executive Director determines the new evidence should be considered, the Executive Director may return the complaint to the investigator to reconsider in light of the new evidence. If the Executive Director determines that procedural errors had a material impact on the fairness of the investigation, they may return the complaint to the investigator with instructions that the investigator remedy the errors, or may instead return the case to a different investigator.

The Executive Director or designee will not substitute their opinion on credibility in place of the judgment of the investigator who saw and heard the witnesses, and will not make new findings of fact. If there is substantial evidence in light of the whole record to support a finding of fact, the Executive Director will not reweigh the evidence but will defer to those findings. Where the findings are upheld, the conclusions of the investigator as to policy violations will be changed only if not supported by the findings.

Staff discipline

If OED determines there is sufficient evidence to conclude that a staff member committed harassment, discrimination, sexual harassment, threats or actual retaliation, the Associate Senior Vice President for Human Resources or designee will issue a written ruling stating the disciplinary action the university will impose and any other corrective action the university will take. Copies of this ruling will be given to the Reporting Party and to the Respondent.

Faculty discipline

If OED determines there is a sufficient basis to conclude that a faculty member committed harassment, discrimination, sexual harassment, threats or actual retaliation, the Provost or a person authorized to act on their behalf will issue a written ruling stating the disciplinary action the university will impose and any other corrective action the university will take. Copies of this ruling will be given to the Reporting Party and to the Respondent.

Other potentially relevant policies and procedures

If the Respondent is a faculty member

The policy and procedures for responding to a report of prohibited conduct committed by a faculty member are described in Chapter 6 of the Faculty Handbook.

If the Respondent is a staff employee

The policy and procedures for responding to a report of prohibited conduct committed by a university staff employee, including postdoctoral candidates, are described at http://policy.usc.edu/.

If the Respondent is both a student and a staff employee

If the Respondent is a student and a staff employee, the Executive Director of the Office of Equity and Diversity/Title IX Coordinator will determine which of the policy and procedures apply based upon the facts and circumstances: the context of the prohibited conduct, the roles of the parties at the time of the conduct, the location of the incident. The policy and procedures for response are found at http://policy.usc.edu/.

Independent of Respondent designation, sanctions may include employment and academic sanctions described in the staff employee and student misconduct policies.

If the Respondent is student or recognized student organization

The policy and procedures for responding to a report of prohibited conduct committed by university students are described at https://policy.usc.edu/student/student-misconduct/.

If the Respondent is a third-party

A third-party is an individual who is not a faculty, student, staff employee or participant in any university-related program or activity; for example, alumni, visitors, and guests.

If the Respondent is a third-party, the university’s ability to take action may be limited and is determined by the context of the prohibited conduct and the nature of the relationship of the third-party to the university. The Executive Director of the Office of Equity and Diversity/Title IX Coordinator will determine the appropriate manner of resolution that may include referral to area law enforcement, restriction from campus or university activities, and outreach and coordination with the home school of the third-party.

The university will offer resources and assistance to all community members who experience and/or are affected by prohibited conduct. In instances when this policy does not apply, the university will assist in identifying and contacting external law enforcement agencies and appropriate campus or community resources.

Private and confidential resources

The university distinguishes between seeking assistance from a private or confidential resource and making a report of prohibited conduct to the university or law enforcement. The university also distinguishes between privacy and confidentiality.

Privacy in this context means that information related to a disclosure or report of prohibited conduct will be shared only with those university employees who need to know the information in order to review, investigate, or resolve the report.

Confidentiality means that information shared will not be disclosed without the individual’s permission or as required by law. Disclosure may be legally required if the reported conduct poses a threat of serious harm to the Reporting Party or others, or if the reported conduct involves suspected abuse or neglect of a minor.

Confidential university resources

Information shared with campus or community professionals who have legal confidentiality (such as licensed counselors, therapists, and physicians) will only be disclosed with the express written permission of the individual seeking services or as provided by law (where there is a continuing threat of serious harm to the individual or others; where there is suspected abuse or neglect of a minor; or where disclosure to a third party is otherwise legally required).

Confidential university support is available to faculty at the Center for Work and Family Life at https://employees.usc.edu/work-family-life/ or (213) 821-0800.

With the exception of the confidential resources defined above, all faculty must notify the Office of Equity and Diversity/Title IX when they learn of prohibited conduct involving students, staff, or faculty.

Private university resources

Private resources will make every effort to keep information shared as private as possible, but they cannot keep it confidential.

A faculty member who is either a Reporting Party or a Respondent involved in an investigation under this policy may seek advice from the Academic Senate President and the Senate Committee on Faculty Rights and Responsibilities. These communications are private but not confidential or legally privileged.

Supportive and protective interim measures

Supportive and protective measures (collectively referred to as interim measures) are those accommodations, services, and other assistance the university puts in place after receiving notice of prohibited conduct, but before an outcome is determined. The university will implement reasonable interim measures to facilitate an individual’s continued access to programs, activities and employment, and will keep these measures private to the extent possible.

Supportive measures are available to the Reporting Party, the Respondent, witnesses, or other members of the university community. Supportive measures are available regardless of whether a report has been submitted to the university or law enforcement, whether the university investigates a report that has been made, or whether the individual participates in an investigation. Examples of supportive measures include access to counseling and medical services, modified employment schedules, academic support or accommodations, and avoidance of contact directives. Supportive measures are voluntary and may be requested, modified, or discontinued by the individual at any time. Requests for supportive measures should be made to the Office of Equity and Diversity, the Office of Conduct, Accountability, and Professionalism, the Office of Compliance, or the Office of Audit Services.

Protective measures are actions taken by the university after a report of prohibited conduct but before an investigative decision. The university will implement protective measures against a Respondent based on the totality of facts known at the time. Protective measures can only be taken if a report has been made and an investigation proceeding.

Interim measures do not indicate the university has made a decision about the report of prohibited conduct.