Title IX has been making its rounds in the news headlines over the last couple of years but the law itself is often referenced without any explanation.
What is Title IX?
Title IX is a portion of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. This is what it says:
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 educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.
While the language of Title IX is short, the rules about what schools should and should not do are long and complicated. The following is the first in a series of posts on Title IX and its application to colleges and universities.
In the past, Title IX mostly came up in connection to college athletics and questions of funding among men’s and women’s sports. But Title IX is more broadly about sex discrimination at our educational institutions such colleges and universities.
What is Sex Discrimination?
Sex discrimination can mean unequal opportunities given or denied because of someone’s sex. But sex discrimination can also include sexual harassment and harassment based on someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation. Sexual assault and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence, such as relationship abuse or dating violence, can also be forms of discrimination based on sex.
What is the aim of Title IX?
To help ensure that all students, faculty, and staff can enjoy the benefits of their educational and work experiences in an environment free of discrimination and violence.
What does Title IX do?
The Department of Education and their Office of Civil Rights oversee enforcement of Title IX and provide guidance on what Title IX requires from colleges and universities. The Department of Education has interpreted Title IX as placing an obligation on institutions to independently investigate all reports of sex discrimination, including sexual violence and take prompt and reasonable steps to help eliminate the behavior, prevent the behavior from happening again, and address or remedy the impacts of the behavior. See Dear Colleague Letter, Dep’t. of Ed., (April 4, 2011)(available at: http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201104.html).
Why are colleges and universities responding to sexual assaults instead of reporting to the police?
In many cases, a sexual assault is reported to the police who conduct a separate, criminal investigation. Title IX requires educational institutions to have their own response, however. Colleges and universities have long regulated and addressed the behaviors of their community members but they are sometimes uniquely positioned to help their students, for example, in ways that the police are not. If a criminal investigation or case moves forward, a prison sentence is a possibility for someone convicted of sexual assault. Even with that person in jail or prison, however, students may need other accommodations to help make sure they can remain in school and be successful.
What are some examples of accommodations that can be offered to students impacted by sexual violence?
Every situation is different and the needs of each student unique, but in general, some possible accommodations or adjustments can include:
- Providing no-contact orders
- Making adjustments to class or activity schedules
- Changing on-campus housing for students impacted, at their request
- Bringing an off-campus student on-campus to a residence hall
- Providing academic support that might include extensions for projects, make-up test dates, and in some cases withdrawals or other grade-related adjustments
- Ensuring a student is aware of resources student resources such as victim advocacy and counseling services
What happens if a college or university does not appropriately handle cases of sex discrimination?
There are a number of options available if individuals believe their college or university has not handled a report of sex discrimination appropriately. Those options include:
- Using the school’s grievance process: An institution may have a grievance process internally that allows an individual to appeal or otherwise raise concerns they have about how a specific situation was handled or how similar situations are handled generally.
- Filing a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights: The Office for Civil rights has a process in place for individuals to file a complaint that may result in an investigation of the institution to determine its compliance with Title IX. An investigation and findings could mean the institution has to change its policies and practices. As of March 2015, 101 post-secondary schools are under investigation.
- Taking legal action against the institution: Institutions can be sued if they mishandle cases. Sometimes no litigation is necessary and an individual can resolve their concerns with pre-litigation discussions. Sometimes a lawsuit is the way accomplish the individual’s goals.
A consultation with an experienced attorney can help an individual decide what steps make the most sense in a particular context.
Over the next several weeks, we will continue to post about Title IX and the rights of complainants and those accused of misconduct.
By Alexandra Tracy-Ramirez, HopkinsWay PLLC. | © HopkinsWay PLLC 2015. All rights reserved.