Title IX is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational program or activity that receives federal funding. This includes most schools, including private institutions and grades K-12. Title IX addresses sexual harassment, sexual violence, or any gender-based discrimination that may deny a person access to educational benefits and opportunities.
Your Title IX Rights
Under Title IX, schools must ensure that all students have equal access to education, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Sexual harassment and sexual violence are forms of gender discrimination that are prohibited by Title IX, including when the incident(s) occur off-campus or involve people who are not students.
When a student has experienced a hostile environment such sexual assault or severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive sexual harassment, schools must stop the discrimination, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects. This includes retaliation from other students, school administrators, or faculty.
Schools must proactively prevent and respond to claims of sexual harassment, sexual violence, and other forms of gender-based violence, retaliation, discrimination, and must have an impartial and prompt process for investigating and adjudicating reported cases. An informal process, such as mediation, may be appropriate for some cases of sexual harassment, but in cases involving allegations of sexual assault, mediation is not appropriate even on a voluntary basis. If the survivor (also referred to commonly as complainant) is resolving a case informally, they must be notified of the right to end the informal process at any time and begin the formal process. Retaliation from either the school, the faculty, or your peers is also prohibited.
Furthermore, regardless of whether a report has been filed to the school or police, an institution must provide the survivor with living or academic accommodations and the right to notify law enforcement. Schools must also notify survivors of options for interim measures, such as no contact orders and changes to transportation, dining, and working situations.
Under the Clery Act, another federal law that intersects with Title IX, a bill of rights for survivors of campus sexual assault requires colleges and universities — but not K-12 — to do the following:
- Notify survivors of counseling resources.
- Notify survivors of the option to report a case to either the school, law enforcement, or both.
- Provide academic or living accommodations, such as changing dorms, classes, etc. Schools are discouraged from burdening the survivor, instead of the perpetrator, with the responsibility to change their circumstances.
- To be notified of the final outcome of a disciplinary proceeding.
You can learn more about your rights under the Clery Act here.
Colleges, universities, and school districts are required under Title IX to provide survivors with a prompt, adequate, and impartial investigation should they chose to make a report. This includes the following:
- Provide a timeframe of all important stages of the grievance process.
- Allow both parties to adequately present their case with appropriate witnesses and relevant evidence.
- Resolve the case based on a preponderance of evidence standard, e.g., was it more likely than not that the sexual violence or harassment occurred?
- Simultaneously notify both parties in writing of the outcome and any disciplinary sanctions imposed.
- Provide the same opportunity to present a case as the other part(ies). E.g., if one person is allowed to appeal the outcome of the investigation or sanction or is allowed to have a lawyer, the other part(ies) must have the same opportunity.
Title IX often intersects with other anti-discrimination laws, such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Colleges and universities must prevent and respond to discrimination on the basis of race, nationality, disability, or sexuality. Many students who experience sexual violence develop PTSD and other mental health ailments that warrant academic or living accommodations under Title II. You can learn more about your Title II rights here and your Title VI rights here.
Title IX Complaints and the Media
Through storytelling and collective action, survivor activists have brought the issue of campus sexual assault to the nation’s attention. If a survivor wishes to come forward, we are able to assist with media outreach. For example, we have organized press conferences and written press releases announcing the filings of federal complaints, connected journalists with survivors for stories related to the issue of campus sexual assault more broadly, and helped survivors raise their voices in opinion pieces across the country.
That being said, EROC recognizes that it is deeply troubling that the burden of addressing sexual violence has historically fallen on the shoulders of survivors. Speaking publicly about these experiences is often difficult, and it is understandable to refrain from doing so. The healing of survivors is paramount, and we will respect your decision regardless of whether you tell your story to anyone else.
If you are interested in learning more about coming forward in the media about your story (anonymously or named) please fill out this form here.
Learn About a Title IX Complaint
A Title IX complaint is a narrative that details the ways that an institution has violated Title IX. This complaint can involve a single case or multiple cases. The primary focus ought to be on what the school did (or did not do) that created a hostile environment for the survivor, or how the institution failed to adequately prevent, respond to, and remedy the effects of the sexual violence or harassment. Examples include:
- Adjudicators dragging out cases beyond a reasonable timeframe.
- Professors refusing to provide academic accommodations.
- Investigators failing to provide timely updates about the cases or resolve them promptly.
- Failing to inform a survivor of their right to academic and living accommodations.
- Failing to protect a survivor from future harassment, including retaliation, from peers.
The length of the complaint varies, depending upon the number of cases and the level of detail provided. Complaints can include appendices with supporting documents (e.g., emails between yourself and relevant administrators or faculty, student newspaper articles, hearing board documents, emails, photographic evidence of retaliation).
Complainants can either be named or anonymous, and they can go into as much or as little detail about their cases as they like. The details of the sexual harassment or violence itself do not have to be disclosed, just one sentence that includes the date is enough.
Some complainants also claim violations of other civil rights laws in their Title IX complaints (e.g., Title VI and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) that prohibit racial discrimination in education and sex discrimination in employment, respectively, as well as and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Title II (also known as Section 504 of the American Rehabilitation Act for private universities) prohibits discrimination on the basis of ability. Survivors often file Title II/Section 504 complaints regarding the failure of institutions to provide mental health accommodations.
Title IX Civil Lawsuit
Information courtesy of Cory Watson Attorneys
A Title IX civil lawsuit can be filed when a person believes their college has violated the rights provided them by Title IX. The document filed to initiate a civil lawsuit is called a complaint. This differs from the type of complaint filed with the Department of Education because a complaint for a Title IX civil lawsuit is filed in federal court.
Under Title IX, schools that receive federal funding (i.e. financial aid) must give students an equal opportunity for education that is free from sexual discrimination and harassment. In a Title IX civil lawsuit, one must prove that their school knew or should have known about the sexual assault or sexual harassment of a student and did not investigate or handle the situation properly. If you believe your school failed to comply with its obligations under Title IX through the handling of your sexual assault or harassment claim, you may have a Title IX civil lawsuit against the university.
What is the statute of limitations for my case?
The statute of limitations is the time limit for filing a civil lawsuit. Once the time limit has passed, you may be barred from seeking remedy. The court in which a Title IX civil lawsuit is filed looks to that state’s statute of limitations. Because Title IX lawsuits are filed in different federal courts throughout the country, the statutes of limitations vary from state to state. You should be aware that some states have statutes of limitations as short as one year from the date of the incident.
Who can file?
Any student, former student, or the parents of a student or former student if the student is a minor, can file a lawsuit. However, a Title IX civil lawsuit may halt the Department of Education’s Title IX investigation. To file a civil lawsuit, it is best to seek legal advice and file through an attorney so that you fully understand your options and legal rights.
How can an attorney help me file a civil lawsuit?
Every case is unique and each school implements its own policies and procedures regarding Title IX. Although it may be difficult to determine the outcome of your case from the outset, the advice of an attorney guarantees guidance and counsel throughout the entire legal process. Attorneys can thoroughly review the complexities of your case and your school’s policies to determine the best way to proceed. After reviewing your case, attorneys may identify Title IX violations by your university and help you find the best options for seeking recourse against your school. Most attorneys that handle Title IX civil lawsuits will not charge you anything for an initial opinion of your case.
What are the outcomes of a Title IX civil lawsuit?
A Title IX civil lawsuit can result in monetary compensation for the student whose rights under Title IX were violated. The court may also require the college or university to change its policies and procedures or strengthen their guidelines for handling sexual assault or sexual harassment. Most importantly, filing a Title IX civil lawsuit gives survivors of sexual assault or sexual harassment a voice and holds colleges, universities, and school administrators responsible for violations of Title IX. It also promotes the awareness that sexual assault and sexual harassment on college and university campuses is a prevalent problem that has to be addressed through proactive policy change and diligent enforcement of civil penalties against sexual predators.
Thank you to Cory Watson Attorneys for providing the above information and for supporting survivors in filing civil lawsuits.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I file a Title IX complaint?
Title IX complaints can be filed by anyone — you do not have to be a lawyer or have a legal background. Complaints can be filed online via email to the regional Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights office where your school is located. You can find the list here. Complaints can also be submitted directly to OCR using their online form, which can be found here.
Can EROC help me file a Title IX complaint?
We can provide free direct assistance with putting together a complaint in a limited number of cases. The template that we use is currently being revised, but will be available here shortly. In some cases, we have worked with complainants in communicating with the Office for Civil Rights and have provided assistance in investigations. If you would like to file your complaint anonymously, in some cases, EROC can communicate on your behalf with the Office for Civil Rights.
Please note that there is a significant demand for this service. While we try to work with as many survivors as possible on federal complaints, we have a very small staff. If we are not able to assist you, we can refer you to either another organization or a pro bono lawyer who can guide you through the process.
Who can file a Title IX complaint?
If you believe your educational institution (ie. college, university, community college, high school) has discriminated against you on the basis of sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation, you can file a complaint against the institution. You do not have to be a survivor of sexual violence. Student allies, faculty, parents, and others, can file a federal complaint on behalf of survivors or others who have experienced sex discrimination.
Does Title IX include gender identity and sexual orientation?
The Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education will investigate Title IX complaints claiming gender identity or sexual orientation discrimination. Whether Title IX covers gender identity and sexual orientation in private lawsuits has not yet been settled.
Is there a statute of limitations?
Under Title IX, there is a one hundred and eighty day (180) day statute of limitations from the date of discrimination to file a complaint. That does not mean that you must file a complaint within 180 days of a sexual assault, it means that you have 180 days from the last experience of discrimination from the institution. It is possible, in certain circumstances, to have the statute of limitations waived.
If a complaint is being filed with multiple narratives and complainants, a case that is outside of the statute of limitations can be included to help demonstrate a pattern or indifference.
Under Clery, there is no statute of limitations. A complaint can be filed anytime.
What happens after a complaint is filed?
The Department of Education should acknowledge receipt of your complaint within two weeks of filing by emailing you and/or sending you a letter in the mail. You will likely be contacted by lawyers from the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) for clarifying information about your complaint. They will either decide whether to open an investigation, which entails contacting the school to request documents and speaking to administrators listed in the complaint. It may take several months for the OCR to make this determination.
If OCR does decide to open an investigation into your complaint, it can take years for cases to be resolved. You can read about pending Title IX complaints, including their timelines, using the Chronicle of Higher Education’s tracker.
What changes will be made once a complaint is filed?
It varies on a case-by-case basis, but generally, OCR will enter into a complaint resolution agreement with an institution that requires the school to make specific policy and practice changes in order to be in compliance with Title IX. Institutions obviously have the discretion to make these changes before the federal government requires them to, so seeing changes on a particular campus is not necessarily contingent upon an official resolution.
Changes that OCR can require a school to make include adopting a preponderance of the evidence investigatory standard, requiring a school to designate an employee as a Title IX coordinator, and publishing timeframes for stages of the investigation process.