The United States Department of Education announced today a delay in the anticipated date for release of its Final Rule setting forth revised Title IX regulations. The Department had previously advised that the Final Rule would be released during the month of May, but now anticipates publication in October.
In the past six months, the federal courts have addressed some novel issues about what is a “sport” under Title IX, as well as questions of standing, retaliation, financial aid, class certification and Title IX’s equitable opportunities and benefits requirements. These cases reflect that the landscape of Title IX continues to change and requires careful attention to ensure that your school or institution does not inadvertently drift into Title IX violation.
Although transgender athletes have been competing for many years – recall Renee Richards playing professional women’s tennis in the 1970’s – the participation of trans-female athletes has recently resurfaced as a sensational headline topic. The Trump and Biden administrations took polar opposite positions and federal courts have issued conflicting rulings on this issue, which appears headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
It is a common practice in collegiate athletics to separate teams in two or more “tiers” of “major” and “minor” or “revenue” and “non-revenue” sports. Tiering may not be explicitly intended by administrators, but informal tiering is relatively common by virtue of emphasizing some teams over others. While tiering is not per se a violation of Title IX, it must be organized properly to avoid violations.
In February 2023, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a resource to the higher education community reiterating some of the core concepts it uses to evaluate whether institutions are providing equal athletic opportunities consistent with Title IX. For colleges and universities, this new resource should serve as a not-so-subtle prompt to review their programs for compliance with applicable standards.
Two cases were decided at the end of November 2022 concerning institutions of higher education disciplining students for alleged misconduct.
In Matter of Mozdziak v. SUNY Maritime, 2022 NY Slip Op 06759 (Nov. 29, 2022), the New York State Appellate Division, First Department overruled the State University of New York Maritime College’s determination, which had affirmed its disciplinary hearing board’s expulsion of a student upon findings that he engaged in misconduct. The student was alleged to have carved a racial epithet into a dormitory elevator door. Two students made a joint, unsworn written statement alleging that they had witnessed the student engage in this misconduct. Notwithstanding that these two students who wrote the statement did not testify at the hearing, their two-sentence statement was credited over actual alibi witnesses who testified that the student was elsewhere when the claimed misconduct occurred.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released a “Fact Resource” on Oct. 4, 2022 reaffirming legal authority that Title IX protects both students and employees from discrimination based upon pregnancy and related conditions. While the new resource is broadly worded, the timing and presentation suggests that it is intended to signal an enforcement agenda targeted toward the protection of abortion rights for students and employees of educational institutions.
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.
A recent finding by the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) that a college failed to accommodate a pregnant student is a pointed reminder of the obligation of colleges and universities to fully and carefully address accommodation requests from pregnant students.
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.
It has been over two months since the federal District Court’s July 28, 2021 decision in Victim Rights Law Center et al v. Cardona vacating the section of the United States Department of Education’s 2020 Title IX Final Rule that precluded postsecondary institutions from considering any statement made by a party or witness who does not submit to cross examination at a live adjudicatory hearing. Since the decision, institutions have sought to assess its impact on their processes for adjudicating allegations of sexual harassment, including the possibility of changes to eliminate this preclusion requirement from their procedures.
On May 6, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) issued new Title IX regulations which imposed significant changes in the way in which colleges and universities must investigate and adjudicate sexual assault cases. The revised Title IX regulations have an effective date of August 14, 2020. On August 5, 2020, the DOE’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced that the new regulations do not apply to institutional responses to sexual assaults that allegedly occurred prior to August 14 relying on the preamble to the regulations. Despite OCR’s seemingly clear position on retroactivity, a recent federal court case out of the Northern District of New York raises new questions as to whether and when the new Title IX rules must be applied retroactively to cases preceding their effective date.