DeVos Lawsuit Update: Court Dismisses, But Leaves Door Open for Future Challenges

November 4. 2019

For Immediate Release
Nov 4, 2019

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


On November 1, a federal judge dismissed our lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education and Secretary Betsy DeVos. Alongside SurvJustice and Victim Rights Law Center, ERA filed this lawsuit in January 2018 over the Department’s 2017 Title IX guidance that harms student survivors of sexual violence across the country.

We are represented by Democracy Forward, the National Center for Youth Law, and National Women’s Law Center. 

Friday’s ruling from Northern California District Court dismissed our lawsuit because, it said, the Trump Administration’s 2017 guidance “does not produce legal consequences,” and therefore cannot be challenged in court. The ruling does not address our actual claims about the guidance, but instead focuses on the “finality” of the guidance as a legally enforceable rule.

Regardless of how courts interpret the legal technicalities of the guidance, since it was issued, ERA and our fellow civil rights groups have seen a noticeable reduction in the number of students reporting sexual violence, as well as an increase in the number of students seeking legal help after being re-traumatized by their schools after reporting.

I want to reassure student survivors that this ruling will not stop us from continuing to challenge the Trump Administration's harmful Title IX policies. — Jennifer Reisch, Legal Director

While we are disappointed in Friday’s decision, the 25-page ruling gives us hope for two reasons. ERA Legal Director Jennifer Reisch explains:

“First, it affirms that organizations like ours, which represent student survivors of sexual violence and harassment, have standing to challenge this administration’s policies that undermine students’ civil rights or threaten to undo longstanding civil rights protections. Second, by dismissing the case on finality grounds, rather than reaching the merits of plaintiffs’ claims, the court leaves the door open to mount such a challenge in the future, when this Administration issues its final rule on Title IX and sexual assault.”

Additionally, in defending itself from our lawsuit, the Trump Administration was forced to argue that its own guidance has no legal weight. The court’s ruling seems to conclude that schools do not need to follow the Administration’s Title IX guidance in order to be in compliance with Title IX.

We are still analyzing this point to determine its implications for schools that are required to follow Title IX, in terms of what they must do, and what is optional.

“I want to reassure student survivors that this ruling will not stop us from continuing to challenge the Trump Administration’s harmful Title IX policies,” Reisch said. “This Administration’s war against women, survivors, and civil rights is being fought on many fronts. We may have lost this battle, but we are determined to win the war and secure your right to learn without the threat of sexual violence.”

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