What is Title IX?
At its most basic level, Title IX is a federal law that was designed to protect individuals from being discriminated against based on gender. Title IX originated as part of the Education Amendments
passed in 1972 and was meant to provide equal opportunities for individuals in athletics and school admissions as well as to prevent discrimination based on pregnancy.
Who is in charge of enforcing Title IX?
Because Title IX was part of a major education reform bill, it falls under the authority of the Department of Education to enforce. The DoE has created a special Office for Civil Rights whose sole purpose is to monitor and ensure compliance with Title IX and investigate complaints alleging violations of the measure. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is headquartered in Washington, D.C. and maintains 12 regional offices across the country.
What does Title IX say?
Though short (only 37 words), Title IX has had an incredibly powerful impact on creating equality in the educational system. To find out specifically what Title IX says, read it in its entirety below:
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.
So what does all that mean?
Though many people who are only passingly familiar with Title IX wrongly believe the measure exists solely to ensure equality in sports, the language of the measure has been used to justify an incredibly broad enforcement. Title IX serves as an important piece of civil rights legislation that attempts to root out 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 instead exists to support men, women and gender non-conforming individuals. The measure also protects students, faculty and staff. Beyond guaranteeing equal access to educational programs, Title IX requires fair treatment with regard to 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 grants 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. One important component of Title IX is to protect students from sexual violence. To achieve this, 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. As a student, you have the right to choose to report an incident of sexual violence to campus or local law enforcement officials. Even if you choose to report the matter to local law enforcement, that does not excuse your school from conducting its own investigation and promptly responding to any complaint.
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.
What has Title IX achieved?
The impact of Title IX has been and will continue to be debated by those in the academic and athletic worlds. Though we cannot know for sure what would have happened without Title IX, we can get a glimpse at how the important federal law has helped equalize opportunities for women.
Today, women represent nearly 60 percent of all college graduates, a tremendous increase in only a few decades. Back in 1972 when Title IX was passed, women made up only 14 percent of all doctoral degree recipients, today that number is right at 50 percent. In 1972, women made up less than 10 percent of all medical school and 7 percent of law school grads, today women represent between 49 and 50 percent of grads in both programs. In the athletic world the numbers are even more startling. In 1971, the year before Title IX was enacted, there were just over 300,000 females playing high school and college sports. Today, there are more than 3.4 million.
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. The person filing the complaint need not 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?
With Title IX complaints, timing is important. The law says that anyone who has experienced sex-based discrimination or harassment must file his or her complaint within 180 days of the discrimination. If the person filing the claim first decides to go through an internal school grievance process, there’s no need to worry that the clock will run out. 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.
What should your complaint say?
If you feel the need to file a Title IX complaint you need to make sure it covers the right bases. First things first, the complaint letter needs to explain who has been discriminated against. Additionally, the complaint should detail who perpetrated the discrimination, when the discrimination occurred and any other pertinent background information that will assist with a subsequent investigation. Finally, the complaint needs to contain details about who the OCR can get in contact with to find out more information about the case. Fortunately, this information is kept confidential and will not be revealed as part of the investigation.
How to file a complaint
Title IX complaints are easily filed with the OCR. Simply fill out the form on the OCR’s website and either email or mail the form into the office.
Even if you believe a Title IX violation has occurred at your school, you might still be scared to bring your complaint forward, likely fearing that individuals at the school or even the administration could retaliate. Thankfully, 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. Schools can issue a no-contact directive as well as take other steps to ensure the protection of person who filed the complaint.
If a school, or any individual at the school, has retaliated against a complainant, that person is encouraged to file a formal complaint with the OCR laying out what retaliatory actions were taken. These complaints are taken very seriously because Title IX exists to ensure individuals are free from a hostile educational environment.
Consequences for violating Title IX
Technically, the worst thing that can happen if an educational institution is found not to be in compliance with Title IX is that the school could lose all federal funding. This kind of severe penalty is rarely if ever dished out, 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?
Absolutely. Though filing a complaint with the OCR is always an option, victims should understand that they are allowed to file a lawsuit as a victim directly against the offending educational institution. Doing so comes with many upsides, including more control over the process. Additionally, those who choose to file suit against a school can request immediate relief in the form of an injunction and 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 far 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, while OCR cases only allow for one review.
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.