Prior to the passage of Title IX in 1972, discrimination based on gender was widespread in education and associated programs at schools. While the law is thought mostly as an effort to level the playing field for females, both sexes were impacted by inherent discrimination. Females could not register for trade (carpentry, mechanic, etc.) classes and males were often refused registration in nursing or teaching classes.
Title IX opened new educational opportunities, athletic teams, and extracurricular activities in unprecedented fashion. Equal opportunity and access to programs regardless of gender is a core tenet of Title IX, but the law also seeks to protect students and employees from sexual harassment and to require schools to remedy hostile environments.
Who Must Follow Title IX?
Any school receiving federal funding in any amount is required to follow Title IX regulations and procedures. Title IX is a minimum standard that must be met, and schools can choose to make stricter enhanced rules. If you work or attend a school, it is important to fully understand the specifics at your institution. Schools must adopt and publish internal grievance procedures to resolve complaints alleging sex discrimination in their programs or activities, including employment practices.
Some states have added further protections beyond Title IX. All 50 states have passed school anti-bullying legislation. Massachusetts passed state-level legislation in early 2021 that further obligated college campuses when Title IX violations are suspected.
Role of Title IX Coordinators
Every school must designate a Title IX coordinator to oversee the institution’s Title IX compliance efforts.
The Title IX coordinator’s responsibilities include:
- Implementing Regulations
- Coordinating Complaint Investigations
- Training Staff Responsible for Grievance Procedures
- Scheduling Grievance Hearings
- Maintaining Records and Files
- Notifying Parties of Grievance Decisions
- Providing Ongoing Compliance Programs
Filing a Title IX Complaint
Grievance procedures must be outlined and publicized to all students and employees. The alleged victim can make complaints directly to their Title IX coordinator. Individuals can also make a complaint directly to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Education. If the violation includes a potential crime, such as sexual assault, a report can be made with local law enforcement. Only a victim (and parents of the victim if a minor) can file a Title IX lawsuit. Title IX lawsuits can be filed without filing a complaint with OCR. A lawsuit can be filed after OCR has completed its investigation, regardless of the outcome.
It is important to note that because the standards for pursuing and completing criminal investigations are different from those used for Title IX investigations (a disciplinary, not criminal, process), termination of a criminal investigation without an arrest or conviction does not affect the school’s Title IX obligations.
Title IX Violations
When an educational institution fails to uphold its Title IX responsibilities, it can lose federal funds for violating the law. OCR can also require corrective action and the U.S. Supreme Court paved the way in 1992 for victims to sue institutions for financial restitution and attorney fees.
One recent well-known case involved the University of Pennsylvania. An OCR investigation was opened in 2014 following the revelations of high-ranking university officials failing to report sexual abuse by then-assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. OCR concluded the school’s reporting and investigation processes were not prompt and equitable and that the practices violated the rights of both complainants and respondents. The school is currently abiding by a resolution agreement to bring its practices into compliance.
As mentioned in the OCR report for the University of Pennsylvania, the accused are sometimes robbed of their rights and due process. In a 2010 case at the University of North Dakota, a student accused another of sexual assault, though the other said the contact was consensual. The school suspended the student for three years for violating the school's code of conduct. Even after police charged the accuser a few months later with filing a false report, the school refused to revisit the suspension of the other student. The school eventually allowed him entrance to campus 1.5 years later.
If you are the subject of a Title IX investigation, it is important to contact a lawyer before speaking to the school’s Title IX department.
Thoughtful Legal Advice for Title IX Cases
Our skilled lawyers at Parisi, Coan & Saccocio, PLLC focus only on Title IX law. We collectively have several decades of experience advising clients under investigation for Title IX violations. Our firm has a track record of success. Guidelines for Title IX continue to change from one presidential administration to the next. Changes were made during both the Obama and Trump administrations and changes are expected during the Biden administration. Our attorneys stay informed of all changes big and small and how our clients are impacted.
For those facing Title IX disciplinary investigations, you will need an attorney who is admitted to practice law in the state where your school is located. We have offices in Arizona, California, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, and Texas.
To discuss your case with a member of our experienced team, schedule a consultation using our online form or by calling (737) 200-2332.