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GRCC drops Title IX investigation against photography professor following his resignation, The Collegiate threatened with cease and desist letter

(Blace Carpenter/The Collegiate)

Grand Rapids Community College has dropped the Title IX investigation against photography professor Filippo Tagliati after he resigned from the college on March 24. This information comes via documents obtained by The Collegiate through the Freedom of Information Act. 

Tagliati was placed on administrative leave on Nov. 8 pending an investigation into alleged violations of the college’s Title IX Sexual Harassment Policy. Students who were enrolled in his classes were told that he was no longer teaching any classes and was unavailable for communication. 

The Collegiate received a heavily redacted Title IX investigation report that makes it impossible to read the allegations against Tagliati and details of the evidence collected throughout the investigation. 

Tagliati received bi-weekly payments of $3,886 for the duration of the investigation. He was paid more than $34,000 while the investigation continued. 

Tagliati’s attorney, Tessa Muir, sent a cease and desist letter to The Collegiate on May 17 alleging that “Publishing any information from a dismissed investigation that did not result in any findings to support the claims against Mr. Tagliati would be defamatory.” The Collegiate received this letter before GRCC officials responded to our FOIA request, which included the excessively redacted investigation report.

“It is very concerning that an attorney would issue a ‘cease and desist’ letter to student journalists when the only information the attorney had was that the journalists had sent a FOIA request seeking information,” stated Erin Malone, Deputy General Counsel for the Michigan Press Association. “Such letters can reasonably be interpreted as an attempt to bully journalists from seeking information and reporting on truthful facts of public importance and have a chilling effect on the work of student journalists.”

GRCC hired Cathleen Dooley from Thrun Law Firm to investigate the formal complaint on Nov. 8, 2022. According to the report, the complainant provided Dooley with computer audio, transcripts of conversations, transcripts of text conversations, and two videos that recorded conversations between Tagliati and the complainant. Dooley also held a series of interviews with the complainant and witnesses over the course of several months, the report states. 

Tagliati refused to be interviewed by Dooley. The report states, “December 1, 2022: Respondent’s Advisor confirmed that he would not participate in an interview with this Investigator.”

In her letter to The Collegiate, Muir wrote, “It is important to note that no findings of wrongdoing have been made about Mr. Tagliati. The investigation was dismissed after his voluntary resignation at the end of the 2023 academic year. He has asserted from the beginning that the allegations against him were false and exaggerated, and there have been no findings or determinations in the case either way because the case was dismissed. He voluntarily resigned from the college at the end of the semester in order to avoid the stress of the ordeal any further — including a hearing — and for various personal reasons. He was not asked to resign, and he did not resign in lieu of termination.”

She continued,” …He maintains that the allegations are false, and they remain unproven. The allegations remain only accusations, which would ultimately have been reviewed and decided upon by a neutral and detached decision-maker after a hearing, had the process gone to completion. But after his resignation, the case was terminated.”

It’s unclear why the college did not pursue the investigation further.

“Although a school may dismiss a formal complaint if, at any time during the grievance process, the respondent is ‘no longer enrolled or employed’ by the school, dismissal is not required,” states the Questions and Answers section of the Title IX Regulations on Sexual Harassment document produced by the United States Department of Education which was updated in June 2022. 

As of this publication, the nature of the complaint, the evidence collected, and how the college handled the investigation remain unclear as the 22-page report was heavily redacted.

While everyone recognizes the need to protect potential victims, too often public bodies use Title IX protections for victims as a way to obscure how the public body deals with such cases and whether they are doing an effective job, as well as complying with the law,” stated Malone. “Over-redaction of reports like this raise questions about how the public body is performing its duties and undermine public confidence that these investigations are being properly conducted.”

The Collegiate has filed an appeal of the redaction in the interest of the public’s understanding of Tagliati’s removal and is awaiting a response. 

The Collegiate stated in the appeal, “The education of students in multiple sections of photography classes was disrupted when their instructor was abruptly put on administrative leave during this investigation, underscoring the public nature and impact of the investigation. In the interest of maintaining transparency for our readers and ensuring that the college is maintaining a safe learning environment for students and fair treatment of those accused of misconduct, The Collegiate is appealing the extreme redactions it received.”

More information about GRCC’s Title IX policy and guidance on how to report a concern can be found on the college website.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to correct the spelling of the former photo professor’s name. The Collegiate apologizes for the error. 

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