Attorney General Becerra Leads Multistate Lawsuit Challenging Erosion of Title IX Protections for Survivors of Sexual Violence and Harassment
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, and New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal today led a coalition of 18 attorneys general in a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s final rule weakening protections under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX). Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs and activities receiving federal funding. In the complaint, the coalition seeks to block the rule’s implementation, which undermines Title IX’s requirements that students be able to learn in an environment free from discrimination based on sex, including sexual violence and harassment. With schools facing impending budget cuts due to COVID-19 and current resources already stretched thin, this rule and its unreasonable timeframe for compliance will callously force schools to divert attention away from critical work being done to confront the challenges of a pandemic while simultaneously weakening core protections for students.
“From mocking the #MeToo movement to pushing this backward rule that makes our schools less safe, President Trump wears his disdain for gender equality and safety on his sleeve,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Instead of safeguarding critical protections for survivors of sexual violence, the President waters them down. This is 2020, not 1920. Our focus should be on protecting our students and families, not burdening academic institutions with complicated, backward regulations.”
Title IX is a landmark law that is immensely important to states, students, families, teachers, and their communities. For more than 45 years, Title IX has required educational institutions that receive federal funding to provide students with an educational environment free from discrimination based on sex, including sexual violence and harassment. Despite the frequency of campus sexual harassment and violence and its devastating effects, those subjected to it often refrain from reporting it. One national study found that only 12 percent of college survivors and two percent of female survivors ages 14–18 reported sexual assault to their schools or the police. An even a smaller fraction of survivors officially reports to a Title IX officer. Students may often choose not to report for many reasons, but federal regulations should never be a factor in deterring survivors from seeking justice — and that is what the new Title IX regulations threaten to do.
In the lawsuit, filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the coalition argues that the rule undermines the purpose of Title IX in several ways, including by:
- Substantially narrowing the definition of sexual harassment;
- Limiting the scope of Title IX’s coverage, effectively denying protection to students who are sexually assaulted in off-campus housing or on the way to and from school;
- Erecting harmful barriers to formal complaint filing and investigation, including by barring students from filing complaints if they have disenrolled from school because of sexual violence and harassment; and
- Potentially subjecting students to online harassment by eliminating critical confidentiality protections in the investigation process.
Today’s action is part of Attorney General Becerra’s ongoing commitment to defending the civil rights of students in California and across the country. In March, Attorney General Becerra called on the federal government to suspend the Title IX rulemaking process during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has put unprecedented strain on schools and students across the country. Previously, he led a coalition of 19 attorneys general in opposing the initial proposed changes to Title IX, building on earlier letters expressing concern with the U.S. Department of Education’s posture on the issue and offering guidance to California schools on complying with the law. In April, the Attorney General opposed a federal proposal that would create loopholes that favor high sodium foods like pizza, french fries, and burgers in school meals. Last year, Attorney General Becerra secured a historic desegregation agreement with the Sausalito Marin City School District. He also reached an agreement with the Stockton Unified School District to address discriminatory treatment of minority students and students with disabilities.
In filing the lawsuit, Attorney General Becerra is joined by the attorneys general of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.
A copy of the complaint is available here.