CALL US 24/7 AT 203-946-2000

Title IX & Student Conduct Code Blog

Duffy Law

How to File a Title IX Complaint

Perhaps you’re the parent of a child whose school did not allow him to try out for a sports team because of his gender. Or maybe you’re a female university student who was turned away from pursuing a degree in a STEM field. Perhaps you’re a pregnant teen who has been excluded from participating in a school-sponsored activity. Perhaps you’re involved in a disciplinary action for sexual misconduct and the school did not respond appropriately or treated one gender more favorably than the other.  Sex discrimination happens in a number of ways, and if it is happening to you, filing a Title IX complaint with your school and/or the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights may be an option for you.

Title IX exists to protect students from harassment, discrimination, or otherwise improper treatment in educational institutions upon the basis of sex. Below, we’ll provide a brief overview of the Title IX complaint process, and what to expect in the event of a Title IX violation. If you have additional questions, an attorney experienced with Title IX procedures can help ensure you move forward properly informed and with the appropriate support at every stage of the process.

Who Can File a Title IX Complaint?

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) explains that anyone can file a Title IX complaint with the OCR. This includes students, school employees, or a person or organization who is filing on behalf of a victim of sex discrimination. To file a complaint through a school, you will need to follow the school’s policies and procedures.

An Experienced Title IX Attorney Can Help in Numerous Ways When Filing a Title IX Claim

Filing a Title IX complaint can be a daunting prospect. Unfortunately concerns or questions about the process often prevent people from taking action to protect their rights. This allows problems to continue and can lead to infringement of others’ rights in the future.

The experienced team at Duffy Law can make the process much easier, less stressful, and ultimately, more successful. We focus our practice on protecting Title IX rights, so we understand all the nuances of the law and procedures that can have a tremendous impact on the resolution of a complaint.

We Can Answer Your Questions and Prepare You for the Process

Most people have no idea how to file a Title IX complaint or what to expect when they do. That’s understandable—it’s not an everyday ordeal. However, with our distinct focus, the team at Duffy Law can get you started, explain what to expect along the way, and guide you through each step in the process. 

We are always willing to take the time to answer your questions. We want you to understand the potential ramifications of the decisions you make and the actions you take during the process. We can help you understand what to do—and maybe more importantly—what to avoid doing.

We Can Pinpoint Specific Violations and Draft Legal Arguments to Support Your Position

Title IX is a deceptively simple statute defined by years of nuanced regulatory guidance. Since we focus so heavily on Title IX interpretations, we understand how to frame the issues in a case, and we can pinpoint how particular conduct violated regulatory provisions.

We can draft documents to file or supplement a complaint. You won’t need to worry about what to write or say, nor will you need to be concerned with when or how to submit statements. We use our experience to manage the filing details on your behalf. Of course, you will have the final say over what is presented because it is your case.

We Can Investigate to Help Find Evidence to Support Your Claim

Once you file a complaint, or possibly even before a formal complaint is made, the school will start investigating. However, their focus may not be the same as your focus. Moreover, the person or people assigned to investigate may have no idea what they’re doing.

We can put our experience to work by conducting independent investigations to uncover evidence to support your claim and refute assertions by the respondent.

We Can Strategize and Guide You Through the Process and Beyond

In a Title IX complaint, like any other legal matter, the right strategy is often the key to success. Duffy Law can develop a strategy geared toward your goal and guide you through the process to achieve a positive outcome.

Throughout the process, we can advocate on your behalf orally and in writing. In addition, we can prepare you for questioning during the investigation process. If the claim results in a hearing, we will ensure that you are prepared.

At the end of the process, if the school doesn’t respond properly, we will explain your options for the next steps you can take to achieve your objectives. And we can continue guiding you and fighting for your rights.

Who Should You File the Complaint With?

Title IX requires schools to appoint a Title IX coordinator who is responsible for consulting with and providing information to potential complainants and investigating sex discrimination complaints filed within his or her school community. The contact information for your school’s Title IX coordinator can be found in your school’s nondiscrimination statement, which should be posted on the school’s website, as well as in prominent locations throughout the school’s campus. You can also contact your school’s administration office for instructions for filing a Title IX complaint at your school.

If you are unable to get an appropriate response from your school’s Title IX authority or you don’t wish to file your complaint with school officials for whatever reason, you may also file a complaint directly with the OCR. The complaint may be filed online, or by mail, email, or fax. You can use the form provided by the OCR, or you can write your own letter describing the alleged discrimination. If you opt to write a letter, you must also include the following information:

  • Your name, address and, if possible, a telephone number where you may be reached during business hours.
  • Information about the person or group of people injured by the alleged discrimination. You do not need to include the name of the victim or victims.
  • The name and location of the school.

If you’re unsure as to how to complete this process or you aren’t getting an adequate response to your complaint, you can also seek the guidance of an experienced Title IX attorney.

Is There a Time Limit to File?

If you go through the school’s grievance process first and then decide to file a complaint with the OCR, you must file the OCR complaint within 180 days after the the last day that the gender discrimination took place. If you do not go through the school’s procedure, a complaint must be filed within 180 days after the last instance of discrimination. If you file a complaint about an alleged violation that occurred more than 180 days ago, you must request a waiver for the time to file and show good cause as to why you were unable to file on time.

Are You Worried About Retaliation?

Many victims of discrimination are afraid that if they file a Title IX complaint, the person or people who are the subject of their complaint will retaliate against them. However, Title IX specifically protects complainants from retaliation if bringing forward a claim. Retaliation against a person who filed a complaint is, itself, a form of discrimination and is prohibited by Title IX.

Examples of prohibited retaliation can include:

  • Giving a student who filed a complaint failing grades.
  • Preventing a student who filed a complaint from participating in school activities.
  • Threatening to expel a student who filed a complaint.

If OCR finds that a school retaliated against a student or employee who filed a complaint, some of the steps OCR may require a school to take include:

  • Training for employees about the law and how to avoid engaging in retaliation.
  • Adopting a communications method through which employees continually receive information about retaliation.
  • Incorporating the prohibition against retaliation in the school’s policies and procedures.
  • Implementing a public outreach strategy to reassure the public that retaliation is prohibited.

If the school refuses to cooperate with OCR or fails to take corrective actions it has agreed to, OCR can temporarily or permanently end federal financial assistance to the school.

What Happens Once the Complaint Has Been Filed?

Each school has its own procedures for handling complaints, and you can check with your school’s Title IX coordinator to find out what your school’s procedures are. Generally, once you file a complaint, the school will notify you and the person you have made a complaint about that an investigation has been opened. The notice will also likely describe what policy the school believes may have been violated. After that, the school will gather information, which will likely include interviews with you, the person you claim discriminated against you, and any witnesses. Finally, the school will usually write a formal report and decide whether discrimination occurred. Once the report is complete, the school will send a copy to you and to the person you made the complaint about. If the school concludes that discrimination did occur, the school will then go through its established disciplinary process.

Whether you’ve been the victim of discrimination based on your sex or you have been accused of sex discrimination in a federally funded school, Title IX matters can be complex. An attorney experienced with Title IX investigations can ensure you are protected at every step of the process. Let us help you understand the legal options that may be available to you and protect your civil rights. Contact us at Duffy Law online or by calling (203) 946-2000.

Felice Duffy

author bio profile image

Attorney At Duffy Law

Attorney Felice Duffy served as an Assistant United States Attorney for ten years after beginning her legal career at two prestigious firms (one in CT and one in NY) and then clerking for two federal judges. A life-long Title IX advocate, she brought a legal action under the then-new Title IX statute against UCONN while an undergraduate to compel the creation of its women’s varsity soccer program. She went on to become a first-team Division I All-American, was selected to be on the first U.S. National Women’s Team, and spent 10 years as Head Coach of the Yale women's soccer team. Attorney Duffy has Ph.D. in Education/Sports Psychology and has spoken to, and conducted trainings for, over 50 schools and organizations on a wide range of topics involving athletics, the law, and social justice. You can reach Felice at (203) 946-2000.