On Aug. 14, 2023, the Office for Civil Rights of the United States Department of Education and the United States Department of Justice issued joint guidance to institutions of higher education with respect to the Supreme Court's recent decision in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College. The guidance, in the form of a Dear Colleague Letter and a Q&A document, clarifies the Departments’ position as to practices that are and are not permissible in the wake of the decision, and encourages institutions’ continued use of lawful means to enroll and support a diverse student body. For example:
As part of the NCAA’s efforts to promote diversity and gender equity in intercollegiate athletics, NCAA Bylaw 18.104.22.168 requires that all Division I athletic departments perform a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) assessment and file an attestation of completion of the review with the NCAA by November 3, 2023.
On Jan. 31, 2023, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a new fact sheet interpreting Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in federally assisted programs and activities based upon race, color or national origin. OCR is charged with enforcement of Title VI in educational settings.
On Dec. 15, 2022, a New York appellate court unanimously affirmed a lower court’s order, entered June 24, 2022 (discussed here), which had permanently enjoined Yeshiva University (YU) from refusing to recognize the Yeshiva Pride Alliance as an official student organization.
On June 14, the New York State Supreme Court, New York County (a trial level court in New York State), ruled that Yeshiva University (YU) and its president must “immediately grant plaintiff YU Pride Alliance the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges afforded to all other student groups at Yeshiva University.”1
Announcing it as a commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the enactment of Title IX (though anticipated for the past 18 months), the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) announced sweeping proposed amendments to the Title IX regulatory scheme that went into effect less than two years ago.
In its Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia ruling in June 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the prohibition on “sex” discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 encompasses discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity. The Bostock ruling raised, but did not decide, the question of whether or not other federal sex discrimination laws, such as Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Fair Housing Act, might also inherently prohibit LGBTQ+ discrimination. While the Bostock ruling applies only to Title VII claims, the Biden administration has announced that federal agencies will apply Bostock’s definition of “sex” to other federal civil rights laws. On the day he was inaugurated, Jan. 20, 2021, President Biden issued an executive order stating that federal sex discrimination laws besides Title VII – including Title IX and the Fair Housing Act – should be interpreted as prohibiting gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination. Subsequently, in June 2021, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) issued guidance that Title IX prohibits LGBTQ+ discrimination. In addition, in February 2021, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that it would enforce the sex discrimination provisions of the Fair Housing Act as encompassing LGBTQ+ discrimination.
In April, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, upholding Michigan’s State Constitutional Amendment prohibiting, among other things, any preferential treatment on the basis of race in the admissions process at Michigan’s public colleges and universities. Yesterday, the Department of Education responded to that decision by “confirming” that Schuette leaves intact the Supreme Court’s prior decisions recognizing that institutions may use all legally permissible methods to achieve diversity goals, noting that
[t]hese include, absent any restrictions in state law, appropriately tailored programs that consider the race of individual applicants as one of several factors in an individualized process to achieve the educational benefits that flow form a diverse student body.
This “Dear Colleague” letter also reaffirmed the continuing impact of the Department’s previously issued “Guidance on the Voluntary Use of Race to Achieve Diversity in Postsecondary Education” and its “Questions and Answers about Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.” While clearly the Department is correct that, as a legal matter, the Court’s most recent decision does nothing to directly alter the legal landscape for private institutions when it comes to promoting diversity (if for no other reason than Schuette did not present that question to the Court), it begs the question whether this decision nonetheless brings the Court just one step closer to a significant change if the question does present itself for review again.