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What Does Title 9 Protect Against?

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972—simply referred to as “Title 9” by many people–officially protects students and staff from sexual discrimination in educational programs. However, to understand what Title 9 protects against, it is necessary to explore the definitions of discrimination that apply under the statute and associated regulations.

An experienced Title 9 lawyer can evaluate your particular case to determine whether the conduct in question constituted a violation and discuss any available relief. First, however, it helps to start with some basic guidance about the protections offered by Title IX.

Overview of Title 9 Provisions

Generally speaking, Title IX requires educational institutions to provide equal treatment and opportunities as well as protect against harassment or other ill-treatment on the basis of sex in educational settings. Title 9 is a federal law that applies “only” to institutions that receive federal funding. As a practical matter, however, almost every college and university in the U.S. gets some funding from the federal government, and they risk losing it if they do not comply with Title 9.

As part of compliance, schools must establish rules that protect students from discrimination based on sex and set up procedures for addressing violations of Title IX provisions. Title 9 violations can have a profound effect on the life of a student, faculty, or staff member, destroying opportunities and emotional well-being. By the same token, however, allegations of a Title IX violation can also destroy careers, opportunities, and relationships. For these reasons, both complainants and respondents often choose to work with an experienced Title 9 lawyer who can protect their rights throughout the process and help ensure their side of the story is heard.

Protection from Harassment

One of the most common forms of discrimination alleged in Title 9 cases involves sexual harassment. This includes situations where someone faces harassment based on gender identity and not just conduct of a sexual nature. For instance, LGBTQIA+ individuals who are harassed for their identity can take action to enforce Title 9 protections.

One definition of harassment described by the U.S. Department of Education includes any “unwelcome conduct” that is so severe, pervasive and offensive that it effectively denies equal opportunities to the affected individuals.

Examples of the types of conduct Title 9 protects against include:

  • Making or allowing sexist comments
  • Gender-based offensive jokes
  • Unwelcome touching
  • Unwanted sexual advances
  • Stalking or making obscene phone calls or other communications
  • Offering benefits in exchange for sexual favors

The last example above is generally referred to as quid pro quo harassment, meaning “this for that.” For example, if a professor implies that a student can get a better grade by coming home with them after class, this could be an instance of quid pro quo harassment. If, however, the professor made that remark solely because they had to go home to care for a child and couldn’t meet with the student in their campus office, a Title 9 lawyer could use that situation as a solid defense to an accusation of quid pro quo harassment.

Protection from Sexual Abuse

In addition to protecting students, staff, and faculty from sexual harassment, Title 9 also provides specific protections against sexual abuse, including intimate partner violence and sexual assault. Sexual conduct must be consensual, and a partner cannot legally consent if they are intoxicated or impaired by drugs. Individuals with a physical or mental disability may also not be capable of giving legal consent to sexual activity. That makes date rape a Title IX offense.

Students who accuse someone of sexual abuse in a campus disciplinary proceeding may receive greater protections during the investigation and handling of the allegations than they would if they pursued criminal liability, so complainants will often work with a Title 9 lawyer before exploring other options. Evidence uncovered in a campus investigation can often be used later in court.

Protection from Unequal Treatment

Title IX seeks to ensure equal treatment in education such that it protects students and staff from discrimination in employment, academic pursuits, and extra-curricular activities including athletics. Many people now know that colleges and universities must offer comparable programs for both women and men, but the protections go beyond that. 

The facilities, coaching, housing, and publicity offered must also be equal. Schools may not offer more scholarship funds to male athletes, for instance. They are also prohibited from discriminating against employees on the basis of pregnancy.

Protection from Retaliation

When students, faculty, or staff exercise their right to file a Title IX complaint, no one at the school is allowed to take retaliatory action. That includes students and the staff at the institution involved. Title 9 protects complainants from many forms of retaliation.

For instance, colleges cannot retaliate by:

  • Refusing to grant tenure to faculty members who provide evidence in an investigation
  • Providing less desirable housing options to a student who filed a complaint
  • Transferring a staff member who participated in an action
  • Excluding a student-athlete from a team because they filed a complaint
  • Assigning less desirable job duties to a staff member who reported harassment

Action that constitutes retaliation is very case-specific. An action that is reasonable when applied in one student or staff member’s situation can be unfavorable retaliation when applied in another situation. An experienced Title 9 lawyer can review the facts to determine whether they point to unlawful retaliation.

Learn More About How a Title 9 Lawyer Can Protect Your Rights

Title IX guarantees equal rights to all individuals on college campuses, regardless of a person’s sex or gender identity. At Duffy Law, we are committed to helping everyone protect their educational rights, whether they are suffering from discrimination or harassment or have been accused of violating Title IX provisions regarding others. We understand the nuances that affect cases and how to take advantage of the protections involved in campus disciplinary proceedings.

To learn more about how a dedicated Title 9 lawyer at Duffy Law can assert your rights and help you move toward a positive outcome in your situation, contact us now for a confidential case evaluation and consultation.  

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.