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 forward to the Office of Equity and Diversity. 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 “complainant” and the person against whom the complaint is filed is the “respondent.”

Complaint Forms

Discrimination Complaint Form (including Sexual Harassment)
Title IX/Discrimination Complaint Form (including Sexual Harassment)

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 generally available for walk-in appointments as well.

To make an appointment call (213) 740-5086 at UPC or (323) 442-2020 at HSC.

Prior to the interview, you should complete our complaint form. While doing so is not required, it will greatly assist us in more efficiently handling your concerns. Either bring the completed form to your interview or one will be provided to you for completion when you arrive. Those with disabilities will be assisted by our staff in filling out the complaint form.

While some questions can be answered by telephone, 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 or not 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 the purview of the Office of Equity and Diversity.

Investigation

Once the investigator determines that an investigation is warranted, we will advise the respondent of the allegations against him or her. The respondent will be allowed to answer the allegations. In most cases, we will also inform the respondent’s chair or supervisor of the allegations, and the dean or vice president of the appropriate school or department will be advised of the complaint. Although our goal is to limit the number of individuals who may learn about your complaint, we cannot guarantee confidentiality.

Investigators try to meet face to face with respondents, administrators, and witnesses to encourage interactive dialogue.

We investigate complaints by reviewing relevant documents, interviewing relevant witnesses, and viewing other evidence as may be available. While anonymity cannot be guaranteed, witness testimony will not be shared with either the respondent or the complainant. Our office has the discretion to determine how many witnesses will be interviewed, as well as the order of such interviews.

The investigator will contact you as needed; for instance, when evidence is disputed or when we require further information. Even after the investigation is underway, you may continue to provide additional evidence to be considered.

The length of time it will take to complete the investigation will vary based on the complexity of the complaint and other factors such as witness availability, although our goal is to resolve all complaints as efficiently and promptly as possible. Absent extenuating circumstances, the university endeavors to complete investigations within 45 days from the date of completion of an intake interview.

Designated individuals, including the complainant, respondent, Executive Director of Equity and Diversity, 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, we will also notify supervisors and the senior vice president of the administrative unit or the dean.

Determination

We use a “preponderance of the evidence” standard for determining whether university policies against harassment and discrimination have been violated. This means that, if the investigator finds it is more likely than not that the alleged misconduct occurred, the investigator will conclude that there was a violation of university policy.

Once a decision as to the outcome of the complaint is made, we will send to both the complainant and respondent a letter with a brief summary of the facts and findings, reason for the decision, and legal standard applied.

If our office determines that there is an insufficient basis to conclude that harassment, discrimination, sexual harassment, threats or actual retaliation has occurred (“insufficient basis”), that will conclude the university’s investigation.

Staff

If the Office of Equity and Diversity determines there is a sufficient basis to conclude that a staff member committed harassment, discrimination, sexual harassment, threats or actual retaliation, the Associate Senior Vice President for Human Resources or her 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 complainant and to the respondent.

Any disciplinary action the university has determined should be imposed on respondent must take effect no sooner than 10 business days after he or she has received a copy of the ruling, unless the Associate Senior Vice President for Human Resources determines that immediate action is necessary to address a risk of ongoing harassment or retaliation, or is in the best interest of the university. Examples of possible disciplinary sanctions include verbal counseling, written disciplinary warning, demotion, suspension, or termination of employment, depending upon the severity of the conduct.

Faculty

If the Office of Equity and Diversity determines there is a sufficient basis to conclude that a faculty member committed harassment, discrimination, sexual harassment, threats or actual retaliation, Vice Provost Marty Levine or a person authorized to act on his 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 complainant and to the respondent.

Any disciplinary action the university has determined should be imposed on respondent must take effect no sooner than 10 business days after he or she has received a copy of the ruling, unless the Vice Provost determines that immediate action is necessary to address a risk of ongoing harassment or retaliation, or is in the best interest of the university. The range of possible sanctions is outlined in the Faculty Handbook.

Students

For students, the range of possible sanctions is found in SCampus and the Student Conduct Code (Also see Student Judicial Affairs & Community Standards website). Possible sanctions range from disciplinary warnings and loss of privileges to suspension or dismissal, including loss of degree.

Appeals of determination or disciplinary action

Please note that the Office of Equity and Diversity 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.

Staff appeal of findings

Upon the conclusion of the investigation and the issuance of findings, either the complainant or the respondent may file a written appeal within 10 business days from receipt of the written decision. This includes appeals in which complainant may appeal an “insufficient basis” finding.

Receipt of the findings is deemed accomplished by personal delivery or emailing, or three days after the date of mailing.

Appeals will be considered by the Executive Director of the Office of Equity and Diversity. If, however, the Executive Director of the Office of Equity and Diversity served as the investigator, the appeal will be considered by Janis McEldowney, Associate Senior Vice President for Human Resources.

Written appeals should be submitted to oed@usc.edu.

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 complainant 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.

A review of the matter will be efficient and narrowly-tailored. Appeals 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.

Upon receipt of the written appeal, the other principal party to the original complaint (complainant 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 shall make the decision on appeal, and will notify both parties.

Upon review of the appeal, the Executive Director 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 that 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, she 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 will not substitute her 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 appeal of sanction

Upon receipt of the disciplinary determination, either party has 10 business day in which to challenge the disciplinary decision by filing a written appeal with the Senior Vice President for Administration (svpadmin@usc.edu).

Receipt is deemed accomplished by personal delivery or emailing, or three days after the date of mailing.

He or his designee will reply to the appeal within 15 business days of receipt, notifying both parties of the decision either upholding or overturning the ruling of the Associate Senior Vice President for Human Resources. This appeal only reviews the determination of the sanction, and does not address the underlying conclusion of the investigation.

Cooperation and no retaliation

All university faculty, staff and students are required to cooperate in the investigative process 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 investigation by the Office of Equity and Diversity. Retaliation will not be tolerated.

Counseling services

Any person found to have been subjected to harassment or discrimination may access free counseling services. Such services are also available to others who have been affected by harassment or discrimination, as well as to the person who engaged in the harassment or discrimination.

For students

Contact the Center for Women and Men. Students found to have been subjected to harassment or discrimination may also access academic support services through the Center for Women and Men, or through Student Affairs.

For staff and faculty

For staff and faculty, counseling services are available through the Center for Work and Family Life.