Articles Posted in Title IX

In a recent case, a female student of a Louisiana university sued multiple parties as a result of an off-campus rape by another student who had been accused of multiple prior sexual assaults and rapes.  A Louisiana federal court denied the university defendants’ motion to dismiss, finding the university had substantial control over the context of the assault even though it occurred off-campus.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was raped in 2021 while a student at the university. She did not know the last name of her attacker at the time.  A national newspaper reported on the accused student’s alleged sexual misconduct and the defendants’ failure to act.  The plaintiff filed suit for Title IX violations and negligence against the Board of Supervisors of the university the accused student previously attended, the Board of Supervisors of the university she attended with the accused student, and the local city-parish government.

The accused student had previously been banned from another university’s campus in Baton Rouge (“First University”) after two female students of that university separately reported him for rape. He subsequently transferred repeatedly between the university attended by the plaintiff (the “University”) and another university (“Second University”) under the same Board of Supervisors.

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Lawsuits arising from a Title IX complaint or investigation can involve a number of complex issues.  In a recent case, the Sixth Circuit considered both whether a private college’s Title IX procedures were subject to a § 1983 federal due process claim and when a Title IX claim is ripe for review.

According to the Sixth Circuit’s opinion, a student, identified in the court documents as “Jane Roe,” reported alleged sexual misconduct by the plaintiff in December 2019.  Pursuant to Roe’s request, the Title IX office did not immediately inform the plaintiff of the allegations or investigate.   The plaintiff was notified of the complaint by email on February 4, 2020.  He alleged the college’s failure to timely investigate prevented preservation of security footage.

The plaintiff claimed he had to hire a private investigator due to the lack of information from the college.  He alleged Roe told his private investigator she planned to use the informal Title IX process.

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Title IX allegations can have consequences even if the student is not found responsible of sexual misconduct.  In a recent case, a student sued his college after being excluded from a sports team following an allegation of sexual assault that did not result in a formal Title IX complaint or investigation.

The plaintiff was a senior student and team captain of a sports team at a Pennsylvania college. According to the court’s opinion, co-captains of the team reported a rumor the plaintiff sexually assaulted a female student to the coach.  The coach reported the allegations to the college’s Title IX office.  He also recommended the plaintiff step away from the team during the investigation, and the plaintiff sent an email to the team that day.

The alleged victim informed the Title IX office she did not intend to make a formal complaint.  The Title IX Office decided not move forward with a formal investigation and notified the plaintiff.

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A California school district recently sought to have Title IX and related claims against it dismissed.  The plaintiff was a high school student who filed suit through his guardian ad litem against the school district, several individually named administrators and athletics personnel, and unnamed “Doe” defendants.  The defendants filed a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss and asked the court to strike the plaintiff’s request for punitive damages.

In reviewing a 12(b)(6) motion, the court considers whether the plaintiff has stated a legally sufficient claim.  The court’s review is therefore limited to the complaint.

According to the court’s order, a student recorded a Snapchat video of the plaintiff and his girlfriend in a classroom.  The school administrators claimed this video showed the pair engaged in a sexual act, but the plaintiff denied that there had been any sexual activity.  A vice principal interviewed other students who said there had been sexual activity and subsequently suspended the plaintiff for three days on December 19.

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In December 2022, identical bills were introduced in the Senate, S. 5158, and House of Representatives, H.R. 9387, to amend Title IX.  The short title for the act is “Students’ Access to Freedom and Educational Rights Act of 2022,” also known as the SAFER Act.  In addition to amending Title IX, the SAFER Act would also amend other federal laws relating to discrimination.  This act would impose additional requirements on schools with regard to protecting individuals from discrimination and Title IX.

The SAFER Act would add a provision making schools liable for sex-based harassment committed by their agents, employees, or other authorized persons if the person’s authority enables or assists in the harassment or the school receives notice of the harassment.  Schools would also be liable for sex-based harassment against a person participating in or receiving benefit, service, or opportunity from a school program or activity or is trying to do so, when the schools have notice of the harassment. A school would not liable for damages if it can show it exercised reasonable care to prevent sex-based harassment and promptly remedy the effects, including through certain specified actions.

It includes definitions for “gender identity,” “on the basis of sex,” “recipient,” “sex-based harassment,” and “sexual orientation.” The definition of “on the basis of sex” includes orientation and gender identity.

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To obtain a temporary restraining order (“TRO”), a party must show likelihood of success on the merits, lack of adequate remedy at law, and irreparable harm if the restraining order is not granted.  Additionally, they must show that immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage would occur before the opposing party can be heard.  If these requirements are met, the court must balance the potential harm to the parties and the public interest.  In a recent case, a university student sought a TRO to prohibit the school from removing him from student housing.

According to the district court’s memorandum opinion, a senior student, identified as “John Doe,” sued his university in a federal court in Illinois for Title IX, Fair Housing Act, and state law claims.  He moved for a temporary restraining order to prohibit the university from requiring him to move out of student housing and banning him from other residence and dining halls for the rest of the school year.

Likelihood of Success

In considering a temporary restraining order, the court must determine if, under the totality of the circumstances, the plaintiff has a likelihood of success on the merits for his Title IX claim. The court focused on the plaintiff’s Title IX claim.

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When a student files suit against their school alleging a Title IX violation arising from a Title IX investigation and proceedings, the person who made the allegations is generally not a party to the lawsuit.  That person often has important information related to the allegations and the disciplinary process, however.  A Texas federal court recently ordered the person who made allegations of sexual assault to comply with a subpoena for a deposition in the accused student’s lawsuit against the university.

“John Doe” sued his university for breach of contract and violation of Title IX.  He alleged his ex-girlfriend falsely accused him of two separate incidents of sexual assault.  According to his complaint, the hearing panel suspended him and stated he would be eligible to reenroll in 2023. The hearing panel also directed him to go to therapy and counseling and complete online Title IX training before he reenrolled.  He would also remain on “conduct probation” while he was at the university.  He appealed the hearing panel’s decision, but it was upheld.

He filed suit against the university in April 2022.  As part of that case, he sought to depose “Jane Roe,” the woman who had made the sexual assault allegations against him.  She filed a motion to quash the subpoena.

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The comment period has closed on the Department of Education’s (“Department”) proposed Title IX rule. The Department received more than 200,000 comments. The Department has not indicated an anticipated timeline for finalizing the rule.  The Title IX rule proposed and published under the previous administration reportedly received about half as many comments. That rule was proposed in November of 2018, received comments until February 2019, was published as final in May 2020, and took effect August 2020.  Given the number of comments to the new proposed rule and the number of issues being addressed in the comments, it could be quite a while before a new final rule takes effect.

The proposed rule would make significant changes to Title IX investigations and procedures, but it also includes other divisive changes.  One change that has drawn a lot of attention is the proposed rule’s clarification that Title IX’s protections against sex-based discrimination include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The proposed rule would also provide protections for pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions.

Individual schools, including the University of Washington submitted comments.  Education associations such as the American Association of University Professors  and the American Council on Education (“ACE”), whose comment was also on behalf of a number of other organizations, submitted comments.  The American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”) and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, joined by a number of other organizations, also provided comments.

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The use of pseudonyms has been a significant issue in Title IX litigation recently, with some courts denying accused students the ability to proceed in litigation against their school under a pseudonym.  The First Circuit, however, has recently vacated an order denying an accused student the use of a pseudonym and provided a new standard for evaluating this issue.

According to the First Circuit’s opinion, the plaintiff was found responsible for nonconsensual sexual contact and intercourse and sexual harassment by a three-member panel following a Title IX investigation and hearing.  He was notified he would be expelled. The university denied his appeal and expelled him shortly before he was to graduate.

The plaintiff sued the university, alleging breach of contract, promissory estoppel, and denial of basic fairness.  He alleged the investigation’s “[r]adical feminist anti-male bias” led to a presumption the complainant’s allegations were true.  He also moved to proceed by pseudonym because he would be significantly harmed by being required to reveal his identity.  The district court denied the motion and the plaintiff ultimately appealed.

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Title IX prohibits sex-based discrimination in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. Public schools are clearly subject to Title IX requirements, but applicability to private schools is less clear.  If a private school receives federal financial assistance, it is subject to Title IX, thought there are certain exemptions for educational institutions controlled by religious organizations.  Federal financial assistance can include grants and loans, but can also include programs such as the National School Lunch Program and Head Start. A federal court in Maryland recently considered whether tax-exempt status constitutes federal financial assistance.

Former students and parents on behalf of minor former students sued a private high school, alleging the school had failed to adequately address their complaints of sexual assault and sexual harassment by male students.  The school moved to dismiss the Title IX complaints, alleging it was not subject to Title IX because it was not a direct recipient of federal financial assistance at the time in question.

The court stated the school’s argument was “without merit” because its “tax-exempt status . . . constitutes federal financial assistance for the purposes of Title IX.”

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