Title IX

Title IX

NYC Title IX Lawyer - What is Title IX?

title ix

On June 23,1972, Richard Nixon signed an education bill that would change millions of people's lives forever. On that day, Title IX was enacted as part of the Education Amendments - prohibiting sex-based discrimination in any school or education program that receives federal financial assistance.

At the time, this cast a spotlight on college and university sporting programs, forcing equal funding for men's and women's sports. Today though, this law has been expanded, and now protects people against sexual harassment, sexual violence, and sex discrimination.

While this law and its interpretations have offered opportunities and protections for people who previously had gone without, it can be argued that Title IX administrators and investigators often operate without considering the fundamental legal rights of everyone involved.

In this blog, we'll explore what Title IX is, how interpretations of the law continue to change, and what these changes mean for educational institutions and their students.

What Does Title IX Say?

Before exploring how interpretations of Title IX have changed over the years, it's useful to look at the original text:

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.

The language is very clear - as was the original goal of Title IX. Educational institutions receiving federal funding were to provide equal access to facilities and education programs for men and women.

How Has Title IX Expanded?

Today, Title IX is less commonly associated with improved access to sports programs and more frequently discussed in relation to allegations of sexual harassment and sexual violence.

This is down to an expanded interpretation of the law. Sexual misconduct is now considered a form of discrimination that prevents the affected student from properly participating in or benefiting from their educational program.

While there's absolutely no question that everyone should be protected from any kind of sexual misconduct - these expansions of interpretation have led to largely unanticipated problems with Title IX regulations. It's reasonable to say this has presented incredible difficulties - both for an educational institution and any students involved in a complaint.

Changing Interpretations of Title IX and the Impact on Educational Institutions

The consequences for failing to properly implement Title IX regulations are severe. In the most extreme cases, institutions that receive federal financial assistance could have that funding pulled completely - a measure that would almost certainly close the entire institution.

As such, colleges, universities, elementary and secondary schools have been compelled to take on a Title IX coordinator. This person's role is one that's billed as being integral to student welfare. While this is somewhat accurate, it's perhaps more accurate to suggest that the role is actually more integral to the overall institution's welfare - making sure enough is done to safeguard future federal assistance.

With some laws, this would be fairly simple. However, the changing face of Title IX makes this a role that is wracked with uncertainty. Do the institution's current measures go far enough? How are new legal precedents being handled by schools? Is the school doing enough to make sure they're not at the heart of new precedents?

It's a role that few people will envy - and, as such, it's perhaps understandable that the shifting interpretations of Title IX lead to somewhat heavy-handed application and over-zealous internal re-interpretations of the original law.

How is Title IX Policed?

Typically, the framework put around a Title IX complaint and investigation will follow these steps.

1. Reporting

One of the most important parts of any Title IX coordinator role is making sure there's an accessible way for any individual to report behavior that they consider to be discriminatory. It will usually be made clear that this channel is open for any kind of discrimination, including:

  1. Discrimination based on gender identity
  2. Discrimination towards pregnant and parenting students
  3. Discrimination based on sexual orientation
  4. Instances of sexual harassment
  5. Instances of sexual assault
  6. Instances of domestic violence within student relationships

This is not an exhaustive list - but hopefully goes to illustrate the enormously broad range of issues potentially handled by an institution.

2. Investigation

When an incident is reported, it will usually be followed by an investigation. This will typically involve interviewing suspects, collecting witness statements, gathering evidence, and preparing for a potential  hearing.

While necessary to uphold Title IX compliance, this process is often problematic owing to the tight-knit community that surrounds an educational facility.

While the Fifth and Sixth Amendments outline that a person should be considered innocent until proven guilty, it's impossible to police this principle in the court of public opinion. As such, students who are facing an accusation and investigation often find themselves carrying an enormous social and psychological weight alongside the already substantial load that college life puts on them.

Not only should the investigators be upholding an assumption of innocence, it's absolutely essential that they remember another critical part of the Fifth Amendment - that a person should not be 'deprived of liberty without due process of law'. However, through fear of media attention, student activism, reputation damage, and Federal funding consequences, it might be argued that, again, due process becomes less important than protecting the institution.

3. Tribunal

When an investigation is completed, a tribunal will be carried out before a "neutral" panel. Neutral is a difficult idea to define here however, when preconceived notions may be brought into the panel. One question is whether those on the panel have a vested interest in the institution appearing to deal with a Title IX case in a severe manner. After all, the panel members are often faculty from the actual school.

Likewise, the procedures surrounding the hearing  won't necessarily follow the same procedures as it would under the supervision of a judge. When people's rights go unprotected in these kinds of ways, any follow-up appeal becomes much more difficult to win.

The Twists and Turns Of Title IX and the Impact on Young People

In just over a decade, Title IX rules have taken numerous twists and turns as the Oval Office is passed between presidents.

In 2011, the Obama administration's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued its famous "Dear Colleague" letter - explaining how colleges and universities should handle discrimination, assault, and harassment claims. These guidelines weren't legally binding - but they came with the threat of lost federal funding in instances of noncompliance.

In 2017, the Trump administration rescinded "Dear Colleague" and mandated a quasi-judicial process - including live hearings, cross-examinations, and different definitions of what constituted sexual harassment. Two years later, The Biden administration started undoing these changes and adding new requirements and processes.

This speed of change is enough to leave anyone's head spinning. As such, it's probably no surprise that Title IX investigations are frequently mishandled. While the job of Title IX coordinator is one of significant ever-moving complexity, this is no reason to condemn either party to unnecessary stress and assumption - especially when such burdens can stay with an individual for life.

Due Process is a Right

Whether investigating a minor driving offense or a first-degree homicide, every individual is entitled to due process - the legally correct way of building a case that will ultimately decide that person's fate.

This is not to diminish the severity of crimes that are committed on campuses across the U.S.; it is not to discount the fact that bad actors can pursue complaints that have no basis. Instead, it is to simply ensure that justice is carried out in a fair and consistent way.

Ultimately, this is something that should rest in the hands of an experienced Title IX attorney. Whatever has led to a complaint being filed, all the parties involved should make sure their case follows the guiding principles of the U.S. legal system. It's likely to be a long time before we come to rest on a final interpretation of Title IX - so until we do, it's absolutely essential that a person's fate is not decided by individuals or parties that have interests beyond finding justice.