What is Title IX?
Title IX was the first comprehensive federal law to prohibit sex discrimination against students and employees of educational institutions. Title IX benefits both males and females, and is at the heart of efforts to create gender equitable schools. The law requires educational institutions to maintain policies, practices and programs that do not discriminate against anyone based on sex/gender. Under this law, males and females are expected to receive fair and equal treatment in all arenas of public schooling: recruitment, admissions, educational programs and activities, course offerings and access, counseling, financial aid, employment assistance, facilities and housing, health and insurance benefits, marital and parental status, scholarships, sexual harassment, and athletics.
What are Your Legal Options If You are Harassed in School?
Individuals experiencing harassment in a federally funded school, university, or college, should first follow the grievance procedures established by the school. Any school employee you speak to about the harassment is obligated by law to report the behavior, so be careful about who you talk to, and when. Allowing others to speak for you won't always make things better, it can actually cause the problem to escalate, and allow other people's agendas to enter into, and complicate, the issue.
When, and if, you decide to make a formal grievance, where to go can vary, depending on the way the school administration is organized. Sexual harassment complaints could be handled by any number of school departments: the dean of students, affirmative action office, civil rights office, or an ombudsman, etc. Your student handbook should be able to point you in the direction of the appropriate department at your school.
If the school’s grievance process is ineffective, then you can report sexual harassment to the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (DOE) at (202) 260-7250 (phone). You can file a sexual harassment grievance with the DOE, but if you proceed with legal action while a DOE case is pending, they may drop the investigation. Note: You do not have to first file a grievance with your school before filing with the DOE, but it may be a good idea to do so.
Filing a Private Lawsuit Under Title IX
Title IX permits a sexual harassment victim to file a private lawsuit, without first having to file with the DOE. You can also file under Title IX regardless of any findings made by the DOE. Title IX also allows for an individual teacher to be sued under the law.
As with workplace harassment, the law also protects those who complain under Title IX if they experience retaliation after making a complaint. If you are sexually harassed at school: Recent changes to Title IX hold academic institutions liable for failing to protect sexual harassment complainants from retaliation. Your identity must also be kept confidential, except where necessary for investigative purposes. It is important to seek the advice of an attorney and to know your rights in this process ahead of time. If the school’s grievance channels do not clear up the situation, besides contacting a lawyer, contact the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.
If any criminal behavior has occurred (e.g. sexual assault or rape), you should report this to the police as soon as possible.