Fighting for Women's Equality

Equal Rights Advocates Sues Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education: Campus Sexual Misconduct and Violence is Gender Discrimination

January 25, 2018 | by

Achieving gender justice and equity is a key part in the broader fight for human rights and social justice. In 1976, Equal Rights Advocates led appellate briefing to clarify that Title IX prohibits sexual harassment as a form of gender discrimination.

Today, Equal Rights Advocates is taking our decades-long fight against gender discrimination straight to the Department of Education.

Equal Rights Advocates, alongside SurvJustice and Victim Rights Law Center, has filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against the Trump Administration to stop the Department of Education’s new and extreme Title IX policy. The plaintiffs are represented by Democracy Forward, the National Center for Youth Law, the National Women’s Law Center, and Equal Rights Advocates.

The persistent #MeToo movement has exposed the prevalence and impact of sexual assault and harassment in schools and the workplace. And what is the Trump administration doing in response? Rather than take a strong stand against this pervasive form of gender discrimination, the Department of Education — guided by baseless and discriminatory stereotypes about the credibility of women and girls who report sexual violence — has chosen to enact an extreme and unconstitutional Title IX policy that will make it harder for survivors of campus sexual misconduct and violence to speak out and will set back the clock on fulfilling Title IX’s ultimate purpose, which is to eliminate sex discrimination as a barrier to education in this country.

Our lawsuit seeks to vacate the Department of Education’s September 2017 decision to roll back important guidance that helped schools address sexual violence on campus in a way that is consistent with Title IX. The suit also seeks to remove new, discriminatory policy the Trump Administration put in its place. Among other things, the new policy allows schools to grant accused harassers, but not survivors, the right to appeal school decisions about misconduct, taking away fundamental rights and protections for victims of sexual harassment and violence that have been recognized for over 20 years. We assert that the Trump Administration’s Title IX policy is unlawfully based on discriminatory stereotypes and non-fact based beliefs about the credibility of women and girls who report sexual violence, as indicated by Acting Assistant Secretary Candice Jackson.

Equal Rights Advocates Executive Director Noreen Farrell said of the suit:

“It is unacceptable that the education of women and girls across the country is compromised by sexual harassment and violence. Yet, under the leadership of Betsy DeVos, the U.S. Department of Education abandoned efforts to protect and preserve the civil rights of sexual assault survivors in schools. ERA is proud to join this effort to hold the Department accountable for its discriminatory actions, which ignore fact and undermine the very laws it is charged with enforcing. Our participation in this suit is ERA’s way of saying to women and girls across the country: we have your backs, even if the Department of Education doesn’t.”

Survivors of campus sexual misconduct, especially those with intersectional identities like women of color and transgender and LGBT students, have benefited tremendously from the clarity provided by the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter. They deserve more than the patchwork of policies cobbled together by an Administration proven to be singularly indifferent to violence against women. Despite progress over the past 20 years, Secretary DeVos’ interim guidance threatens that progress made to hold institutions accountable and keep them on the right side of civil rights law.

Equal Rights Advocates is clear about one thing: Title IX is still the law of the land. Colleges are still legally required to ensure that sexual misconduct and violence does not interfere with equal educational opportunities. And our government still has an obligation to protect the civil rights of students who experience sex discrimination as a barrier to education.

Read the press release about the lawsuit here.

Read the full complaint.

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