A complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education accuses administrators at the University of North Carolina of downplaying sexual assault cases at the school, and pressuring the assistant dean of students to under-report such cases.

The accusations indicate that the school could be ignoring concerns that the U.S. Department of Education has emphasized to schools as recently as two years ago, an attorney with the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) told The Raw Story on Friday.

According to the student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, the complaint, filed on Wednesday accuses the university of violating both Title IX the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits gender-based discrimination, and the Campus Sexual Assault Victims' Bill of Rights, as outlined in the Clery Act.

"If you look at the [department's] 2011 guidance, it makes it really clear about the critical role schools play in both responding to reports of violence and in reporting sexual assault on campus under the Clery Act," said Fatima Goss Graves, the NWLC vice president for education and employment.

The department's "significant guidance document," issued in April 2011 (PDF) states that, "If a school knows or reasonably should know about student-on-student harassment that creates a hostile environment, Title IX requires the school to take immediate action to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects."

That runs counter to former Assistant Dean of Students Melinda Manning's allegation that the University Counsel office told her the number of sexual assault cases she documented for 2010 was "too high." Manning also said her figure was cut by three without her knowledge.

"What you want to see is, if there are elevated reports of sexual assault on campus, is a school responding promptly and forcefully to address it on campus," Graves said.

The school reported 19 "incidents of forcible sex offenses on campus" that year, and 12 for 2011, both increases over 2009, when six cases were reported.

The Clery Act requires universities to submit annual crime reports to the federal government. A fine of up to $35,000 per incident can be levied for violating those terms.

Manning resigned from her position last month, telling Jezebel at the time, "I got tired of fighting."

In the complaint, Manning also accused school administrators of subjecting her to a hostile work environment.

At one time, the complaint said, Manning spoke to Vice Chancellor Winston Crisp about succeeding him as the school's Dean of Students. The complaint stated that Crisp told her he would "never hire her because she had a young child at home."

That statement, if found true, would not only violate Title IX, Graves said, but dredges up stereotypes in many workplace cultures regarding pregnant women.

"When decisions are made on these sorts of stereotypes, there is no good that comes from them," Graves said. "They are both bad education decisions and in violations of the law."

The position was filled by Jonathan Sauls, who is accused of reprimanding Manning for contacting Chancellor Holden Thorp and the school's Office for Civil Rights concerning the university's treatment of sexual assault cases.

He also allegedly told Manning that others suggested he fire her. He also rated her as "needs improvement" in her annual review.

The Department of Education must now decide whether to pursue an investigation, Graves said.

"I want to assure you that the University takes the issue of sexual assault very seriously," Crisp said in an email to The Daily Tar Heel. "We are all working together to make sure that our process for handling these cases is fair, effective and supportive."

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