Campus Sexual Assault and Retaliation

Last week CNN published an article highlighting retaliation against university employees who take a stand for their students when rights under Title IX are being violated. It tells the story of Jennifer Morlok, who landed her dream job at University of Oregon only to have her job threatened when she voiced her concern that a rape victim’s counseling records were being mishandled. In filing a complaint against the University with another professor, Ms. Morlok alleges that the school responded to her concerns by threatening her job, challenging free speech and her ability to speak up, and deterring other employees from supporting students in their fight against campus sexual assault.

Ms. Morlock’s experience at University of Oregon highlights a recurring problem at colleges and universities in the United States. Title IX prohibits retaliation against individuals, like Jennifer Morlok, who assert Title IX rights or raise concerns that their school is in violation of Title IX. The Supreme Court determined a decade ago that reporting incidents of discrimination is “integral to Title IX enforcement and would be discouraged if retaliation against those who report went unpunished.” School administrators, professors, and teachers are essential first responders in the enforcement of the law’s guarantee of equal educational opportunities for students. Title IX is the civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. The law also requires educational institutions to ensure that their students can pursue their studies without being subjected to sexual harassment and violence. Title IX requires schools to take steps to prevent and respond to sexual assault, including promptly and adequately investigating complaints. Schools must have established procedures for handling complaints of sexual harassment or assault.

Correia & Puth represents employees in retaliation claims against schools and universities when they face reprisal for taking a stand against discrimination. The very purpose behind Title IX’s protection from retaliation is to ensure professors and students alike can do the right thing without risking their job or their education. Where one in five women are sexually assaulted during college (a statistic that would likely be much worse if able to capture the issue of underreporting), students need educators and administrators who are willing to step up. Title IX provides the protection needed to ensure they have a remedy under the law, but in working to eliminate sex discrimination in education, colleges and universities should encourage individuals to speak out and against sexual harassment or violence, and protect them from retaliation when they do.

To learn more, read CNN’s article The whistleblowers: Employees claims retaliation in campus rape cases.