Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sex-based discrimination and retaliation in education. Title IX applies to education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance, and protects students and school employees at educational institutions at all levels, from kindergarten through postgraduate schools. Although Title IX is most commonly known for its application to athletic programs, it also prohibits sex discrimination and retaliation in all areas of education. For example, Title IX protests against discrimination in single-sex education programs, STEM programs, Career and Technical Education, on the basis of pregnancy, and sexual harassment and assault.
Correia & Puth is a recognized, national leader on use of Title IX as an effective tool to maintain an educational environment free from discrimination and retaliation. We have successfully filed Title IX claims, negotiated with schools, and where appropriate filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. We have litigated Title IX cases on behalf of athletic coaches and college and high school educators who have been targeted for retaliation after they took a stand against sex discrimination at their schools. For example, Linda Correia represented a leading women’s volleyball coach and a golf coach in a lawsuit that resulted in a $3.4 million settlement against Florida Gulf Coast University. That successful battle earned Ms. Correia the 2009 Trial Lawyer of the Year award from the Metropolitan Washington Employment Lawyers Association. In 2016, we settled a Title IX retaliation and sex discrimination case against the University of North Florida for $1.25 million. In another case, we achieved a settlement that included reinstatement of a high school coach who had been fired in retaliation for speaking up for equal resources for her girls lacrosse team.
“Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in education so that women and girls have equal access to school programs and activities, and to ensure that students and school employees can learn and work in an environment free from discrimination and retaliation.”
Title IX protects students from sexual harassment or sexual assaults. Schools have an obligation under Title IX to ensure that student survivors of sexual assault or harassment can continue their education programs and do not have to experience a hostile environment. Being victimized often limits a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from a school’s educational program, which is a deprivation of the student’s civil right to an education free from sex discrimination. When the school knows or reasonably should know about harassment or assault, the school must take prompt and effective steps to end the sexual harassment, eliminate the hostile environment, prevent its recurrence, and remedy its effects. Schools must have procedures in place to enable students to make complaints about sexual harassment and effective procedures to appropriately address sexual assault and harassment complaints. Effective school responses should include access to counseling and other health services for the student, thorough and fair investigations of complaints and steps to ensure the student has the opportunity to complete her education program.
Under Title IX, educational institutions and programs are prohibited from retaliating against an individual for asserting Title IX rights or raising concerns that the school is in violation of Title IX. This means that when employees or students complain about sex-based discrimination or retaliation, the school cannot penalize them because of their report or complaint. For example, the law prohibits retaliation against a teacher who reports the sexual assault of a student on campus or a coach who complains about unequal treatment of male and female athletic programs. The law also protects students who have reported or complained about possible Title IX violations from retaliation, for example, when a student reports sexual harassment to school administrators or complains about a teacher’s refusal to excuse her absences related to her pregnancy.
Title IX protects against sex-based discrimination in athletic programs. Title IX requires schools to treat both sexes equally with regard to athletic participation opportunities, athletic scholarships, and treatment of teams. Title IX requires schools to provide female and male student-athletes equivalent facilities, equipment, uniforms, travel and travel funding, scheduling of practice and games, housing, and other activities related to athletic participation. Schools must also provide equal opportunities to obtain athletic scholarships, and ensure that female and male student-athletes have equivalent opportunities to participate in sports programs. Since its passage, women have been able to participate in athletics at much higher rates and experience the benefits associated with participation in sports.
Pregnancy discrimination is also sex discrimination that is prohibited by Title IX. The law requires that schools give all students who might be, are, or have been pregnant the same access to school programs and extracurricular activities that other students have. This means that schools must excuse absences for as long as a student’s doctor says is necessary, and must let the student make up the work missed while out. Students who miss classes, clinic hours, or any other educational program due to pregnancy and related conditions cannot be penalized for those absences and must be given the opportunity to make up work they miss so that the student is not subject to unequal treatment because of her pregnancy.
Discrimination against LGBT or gender nonconforming students is prohibited by Title IX’s protection against sex discrimination in schools. Federal courts and agencies have recognized that federal laws prohibiting sex discrimination prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. For example, the Supreme Court long ago recognized that it is illegal for an employer to deny employment opportunities or permit harassment because a woman does not dress or talk in a feminine manner, because this is discrimination based on sex. Likewise, federal trial and appellate courts have found that one cannot consider an individual’s gender identity (innate identification of gender) or sexual orientation (innate emotional, romantic, or sexual attraction) without considering their sex, which means that discriminating against someone based on their gender identity or sexual orientation is synonymous with sex discrimination prohibited under the law. Schools have an obligation under Title IX to respond to and remedy bullying, harassment, and discrimination against LGBT or gender nonconforming students. Students have a right to equal access to educational opportunities, including access to single-sex spaces, gender-neutral and equitable enforcement of dress codes, and activities consistent with their gender identity.