Title IX Lawsuits

What is Title IX?

Title IX is a federal law that is designed to protect individuals from being discriminated against based on gender. Title IX originated as part of the Education Amendments
passed in 1972.

Who enforces Title IX?

Title IX falls under the authority of the Department of Education (DOE). The DOE has created a special Office for Civil Rights (OCR) whose primary purpose is to monitor and ensure compliance with Title IX and investigate complaints alleging Title IX violations.

What does Title IX say?

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

Many people are only vaguely familiar with Title IX. Title IX has been used to justify a very broad enforcement. Title IX serves as an important piece of civil rights legislation that seeks to eliminate all sex-based discrimination in education, whether at the K-12 level or in colleges and universities. Title IX has been interpreted to apply to any and all educational institutions that receive federal funding.

Who does Title IX protect?

Title IX does not protect only women, but protects men, women and gender non-conforming individuals. It also protects students, faculty and staff. Beyond guaranteeing equal access to educational programs, Title IX requires fair treatment in admission and extracurricular activities as well as protection from sexual harassment and sexual violence. Any failure to protect students from such discrimination, harassment or violence amounts to non-compliance with Title IX. In addition to sex-based discrimination, Title IX also provides rights to pregnant individuals who cannot be discriminated against because of their pregnancy.

Title IX and sexual violence

Title IX has been in the news a lot recently after dozens of colleges and universities were investigated for their alleged mishandling of rapes and other sexual harassment on campus. Title IX applies to protect victims of sexual assault as well as those accused of sexual assault. To this end, the law imposes important obligations on educational institutions. Among those obligations is the requirement that schools respond promptly and effectively to accusations of sexual violence. That means that once a person reports an incident to the school, the school must promptly address the complaint and investigate what happened. The school must also adopt and publish procedures for resolving complaints of sexual violence and must make available resources for those who need confidential support services.

What schools are covered by Title IX?

Title IX exists to protect individuals attending or working at all federally funded educational institutions. This means that Title IX covers all elementary, middle and high schools, as well as colleges and universities. Title IX goes further still, applying to any program or activity that is affiliated with an institution that receives federal funds, including school-sponsored internships.

Who can file a Title IX complaint?

Anyone who believes there has been an act of sex-based discrimination, harassment or violence is allowed to file a Title IX complaint. Those accused of sexual assault can also file claims based upon Title IX. The person filing the complaint does not need to be an actual victim of the discrimination, but can instead file based on the idea that he or she is part of a general hostile environment.

When should you file?

Timing is important when filing Title IX complaints. The law says that anyone who has experienced sex-based discrimination or harassment must file a complaint within 180 days of the discrimination. If the person filing the claim decides to go through an internal school grievance process first, the law says that a person can still file a complaint with the OCR within 60 days of the last act of the internal grievance process.

Retaliation

Title IX prevents schools from retaliating against someone who has filed a complaint. The school is legally prohibited from doing anything to discourage a complainant from continuing his or her education. This protects victims from being denied important educational opportunities while the matter is being investigated.

Not only must the school avoid doing anything that could be seen as adverse action against the complainant, but the school is also obligated to ensure that the person accused of the Title IX violation or any other third-party does not retaliate against the complainant.

Complaints of retaliation are taken very seriously because Title IX ensures that individuals are free from a hostile educational environment.

Consequences for violating Title IX

The worst penalty that can be imposed if an educational institution violates Title IX is that the school could lose all federal funding. This kind of severe penalty is rarely if ever imposed. More often, schools are forced to make changes to the way they operate and often made to pay substantial damages to those who have been injured as a result of either sexual discrimination or harassment.

Can you file a lawsuit over Title IX violations?

Yes. Filing a complaint with the OCR is always an option. However, victims should understand that they are allowed to file a lawsuit as a victim directly against the offending educational institution. Doing this provides the victim with more control over the process and the opportunity to request immediate relief in the form of an injunction and the victim can ask for things such as monetary damages for discrimination or harassment. Another benefit to filing suit rather than filing a complaint with the OCR is that there is more time to file suit under existing state statutes of limitation than the 180 days allowed for a complaint with the OCR. Finally, those who file lawsuits have the ability to appeal unfavorable results.

Possible result of a Title IX lawsuit

Anyone who decides to bring a civil suit against a school for a Title IX violation should understand that it is possible to not only demand changes in behavior on the part of the school, but also to request monetary damages. Many of the recent cases against schools over mishandling sexual assault cases have involved civil lawsuits rather than complaints filed with the OCR. These students request not only changes to the procedures put in place by schools, but also for financial compensation for the harm they've suffered.