DeVos Lawsuit Ruling: Federal Court Strikes Down Unfair Rules that Harm Student Survivors

July 29. 2021


For Immediate Release
Jul 29, 2021

Media Contact
Jess Eagle, Communications Manager
Equal Rights Advocates
(717) 574-2702
[email protected]

 


Important updates: 

  • On August 24, the U.S. Department of Education released a statement confirming it will no longer enforce the anti-survivor provision struck down by the court in this ruling, meaning college survivors of sexual assault or harassment, and their witnesses, no longer have to submit to live cross-examination in Title IX hearings. Read the Department of Education’s announcement, or the official letter released by the Department’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Suzanne B. Goldberg.
  • On August 10, the court clarified its ruling to confirm that it has found the Title IX provision unlawful, vacating and nullifying the provision so that it can no longer be enforced. Read more about the clarification here.

Dept. of Education must now reconsider its exclusion of important evidence in Title IX hearings

On July 28, 2021, a federal court ruled in our lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education and former Sec. Betsy DeVos, saying that the Department must reconsider its current rule that prohibits survivors from introducing important evidence of sexual misconduct in Title IX hearings. 

The lawsuit was filed by Equal Rights Advocates, Victim Rights Law Center, Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, Legal Voice, and several survivors, including ERA clients, over Title IX changes implemented by DeVos, which are unfair and harmful to student survivors across the country. 

The ruling comes from the United States District Court, District of Massachusetts. It requires the Department of Education to explain the purpose of DeVos’s Title IX provisions that don’t allow important evidence — such as police reports, rape kits, or admissions by the respondent — in Title IX hearings if the Department will continue requiring schools to exclude such evidence. The court also said the provisions make it all but impossible for survivors to win their Title IX cases.

Currently, schools can only consider statements from witnesses as evidence if the person who made the statement appears at the hearing and is cross-examined. The respondent (assailant/harasser) is not required to attend the hearing, and is even permitted to dissuade other witnesses from appearing. The court said these provisions render the hearing a “remarkably hollow gesture,” and said the Education Department under DeVos “failed, even implicitly, to consider the consequences” of the provisions on survivors.

While the court failed to strike down any other provisions of DeVos’s harmful Title IX rule, which went into effect on August 14, 2020, the Biden Administration has since indicated its intent to repeal them.

Reacting to the Court’s decision, Equal Rights Advocates Executive Director Noreen Farrell stated, “When Equal Rights Advocates joined our incredible partners in this case to challenge the discriminatory Title IX rules by the Trump Administration and Betsy DeVos harming student survivors, we understood change would not be easy. On behalf of all student survivors, we seize the partial victory in this week’s decision and we will also push on all other fronts necessary to ensure that students in this country are safe enough to learn. We look forward to working with the Biden Administration, our partners in this case, and brave survivors to eliminate DeVos’s harmful rules once and for all.”

The matter was heard by the Court in early November 2020. Equal Rights Advocates and the other plaintiffs were represented by Morrison & Foerster, National Women’s Law Center, and Diane Rosenfeld. 

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