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Title IX & Student Conduct Code Blog

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Retaliation Against Students by Their Coaches and Professors

Title IX protects students and employees of schools from any type of sex discrimination. If sex discrimination does occur, you have the right to report the discrimination to your school’s Title IX office or to a trusted school employee.

When you file a complaint, you should expect that the school will take the necessary action to resolve the matter and protect you from further discrimination. However, too often, when students report discriminatory acts, instead of getting help, a coach or professor retaliates against them.

Unlawful Retaliation

Title IX prohibits any retaliatory acts by schools against students who complain of gender discrimination. Retaliation can take place against both students and employees and can involve any action that harms the complainant. Retaliation comes in many forms, and can include:

  • Reduced playing time or undesirable position changes for student-athletes
  • Suspension from an athletic team
  • Receiving lower or failing grades
  • Preventing participation in any school activities
  • Threatening suspension or expulsion
  • Intimidation of the student

Any type of sex discrimination can cause distress, especially sexual harassment or assault. It can be difficult to come forward and report misconduct, and many students will go to a trusted advisor, coach, or to the Title IX coordinator of the school to file their complaints. They expect the school will properly hear and handle their complaints, including that a school will put in place necessary protections from further violations.

It can feel traumatic when a coach or professor does not take a complaint seriously. Even worse, some people in such authority positions may even retaliate against the student. Employees can also experience Title IX retaliation for making complaints to supervisors or administrators.

Title IX violations are not good for a school’s reputation. Many departments and institutions may try to sweep complaints under the rug or even try to cover up misconduct by silencing a student through threats or retaliatory acts. Victims of retaliation have the right to take legal action based on both the underlying discrimination and the retaliation.

In 2005, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that Title IX provides victims of retaliation a cause of action. In Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education (2005), a high school coach brought up concerns about unequal treatment of the girls’ basketball team. The school then fired the coach instead of addressing the concerns. the Supreme Court held that the coach had the right to bring a legal claim for unlawful retaliation under Title IX. The same right extends to all students.

Proving Retaliation Claims

Title IX retaliation claims can present difficult challenges. As you can imagine, people generally will not admit that they took retaliatory action instead of addressing a Title IX complaint. For example, a professor will likely never willingly admit that you received a failing grade because you reported sexual harassment. Instead, the professor will likely come up with a different false reason for the failing grade.

These are known as pretextual reasons, and you will have to prove that the provided reason was pretextual and that the true motive behind the adverse action was retaliation. Proving someone’s intent is never a simple matter, and it requires the presentation of evidence in a skilled and persuasive manner.

To prove you suffered retaliation by a coach or professor, you must prove that:

  • You engaged in a protected activity
  • You were the victim of an adverse action
  • Causation between the protected activity and the adverse action

A protected activity can involve opposing or reporting Title IX violations, participating in a Title IX investigation, or otherwise exercising your rights under the law. A complaint does not need to take a certain form to constitute protected activity. A formal, written complaint or an informal, verbal complaint in a professor or coach’s office both qualify. As long as what you say clearly gives notice that you are complaining about unlawful sex discrimination, Title IX protects the activity.

Students must also prove they suffered adverse actions by a professor or coach. Isolated comments or petty slights will generally not constitute adverse actions for the purposes of a retaliation claim. Instead, you must demonstrate that you suffered lower grades, fewer opportunities, or other types of harm.

Finally, you must prove causation between your complaint and the adverse action. Different courts have different standards when it comes to sufficiently proving causation. An experienced Title IX attorney can evaluate your case and determine the standard for the proper jurisdiction. Proving causation, though complicated and difficult, is essential to any retaliation claim.

Protecting Your Legal Rights After Retaliation

If you believe that a professor or coach retaliated against you for making a Title IX complaint or participating in a Title IX action, protect your rights. Here are some steps you can take to resolve your case as favorably as possible:

  • Keep detailed notes about any actions that you believe constitute impermissible retaliation. Make sure to document the date and time of the retaliatory event and whether any other people witnessed or were made aware of it.
  • Keep any emails, text messages, voicemails, or other communications you have with the coach or professor that has subjected you to retaliation.
  • Report the matter to your school’s Title IX office.
  • Contact an attorney as soon as you can. Our attorneys will examine what happened and can advise you of your options for taking legal action against the school.

Title IX claims have time limits, so never wait to discuss your rights with our Title IX law firm.

Contact Our Experienced Title IX Attorneys at Duffy Law to Discuss Your Rights

At Duffy Law, our lawyers have experience handling many types of Title IX claims, including those for unlawful retaliation. If a coach or professor tries to harm you instead of helping you, turn to the legal team at Duffy Law. We understand all of the procedures and standards involved in Title IX cases and will stand up for your rights. Call (203) 946-2000 or contact us online to schedule a case evaluation today.

Felice Duffy

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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.