Federal Court Denies Injunction Against Title IX Final Rule

A federal court has denied a preliminary injunction to stop or delay the implementation of the new Title IX regulations.  The court found the plaintiffs had not established that they are likely to succeed on their claims or to suffer substantial irreparable harm.

The plaintiffs argued the K-12 grievance process exceeded the Department’s authority and is arbitrary and capricious.  The court noted that the Final Rule’s requirements may not be the best way to handle Title IX in K-12 schools, but did not find that the plaintiffs would be likely to show it was arbitrary and capricious.  The Final Rule includes different requirements for K-12 than for post-secondary schools.  The court could not substitute its own judgment for the Department’s when the Department had considered the data and there was “a rational connection between the facts found and the choice made.”

The plaintiffs also argued the Department exceeded its authority by penalizing schools for investigating or punishing conduct that did not fit within the Final Rule’s definition of sexual harassment as Title IX violations.  The court found they had “not squarely presented this argument.” The court also noted that the challenged portions of the Final Rule seemed to be rooted in the authority the Department was granted by Title IX.  Finally, the Department indicated that it did not intend to withhold funding from a school for mischaracterizing a disciplinary proceeding as a Title IX proceeding, but would instead seek to clarify the nature of the proceeding for the parties.  The plaintiffs therefore had not shown that they were likely to succeed on their claim the Department exceeded its authority by penalizing schools that took a broader view of sexual harassment generally, or even in the specific case of the mandatory dismissal of complaints alleging harassment that did not meet the Title IX definition.

The plaintiffs also argued the implementation date was arbitrary and capricious.  The court noted that final regulations generally cannot take effect for at least 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.  The Final Rule stated 60 days would usually be sufficient, but the Department extended the date to August 14, 2020 due to COVID-19.  The Department reasoned that schools could work on the required changes during the summer, but noted that the date “adequately accommodates the needs of recipients.”

The court acknowledged that a later date might have been better, but could not find that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed in showing the effective date was arbitrary and capricious where the Department had considered the pandemic and the other issues commenters raised.  The court also pointed out the proposed rule had been published nearly two years before the effective date, giving schools time to analyze and plan. The court therefore did not find the effective date to be arbitrary and capricious.

The plaintiffs argued there would be irreparable harm to schools that expended resources on implementing the Final Rule because those funds would not be recoverable due to the defendants’ immunity.  The court found, however, that the economic harm was not significant enough to support an injunction.  The court pointed out the Final Rule was scheduled to take effect that same week, so most of the cost had likely already been incurred.  The court also found the costs were “not so substantial relative to Plaintiff’s budgets…”  The Department took the pandemic into account when establishing the effective date.  The court found the plaintiffs had not shown that complying with the Final Rule would negatively affect their ability to address the pandemic.

The court denied the injunction.

This decision came just a few days after a New York federal court also denied an injunction against the Final Rule in another lawsuit.  The Final Rule is now in effect and students accused of sexual harassment should be afforded the protections it provides.  If you face sexual harassment accusations at school, an experienced Seattle Title IX defense attorney can help you ensure your rights are protected.  Call Blair & Kim, PLLC, at (206) 622-6562 and schedule an appointment.

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