Trial Date Set in Lawsuit against Betsy DeVos, Dept. of Education over New Federal Title IX Rule

September 24. 2020

For Immediate Release
Sep 24, 2020

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

Lawsuit Challenges Title IX Changes Requiring Harmful Processes in K-12 Schools, Colleges

Update: The trial date has been rescheduled for Nov. 10, 2020.

A trial date of October 14 has been set in our lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education and Secretary Betsy DeVos over sweeping Title IX changes that intentionally discourage students nationwide from reporting incidents of sexual violence. The lawsuit is brought by Equal Rights Advocates, Victim Rights Law Center, Legal Voice, and Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation.

The trial will take place in federal court for the District of Massachusetts, and the outcome will decide whether DeVos’s new Title IX regulations violate federal law. The regulations require schools to implement harmful new processes such as live direct cross-examination of victims that will re-traumatize students who experience sexual assault and harassment. (More new requirements detailed below.) They apply to most schools in the nation, from colleges to elementary schools.

The lawsuit is the first to have a trial date set among many lawsuits nationwide against DeVos over the Title IX changes. The trial outcome will decide whether the changes violate federal law.

The lawsuit is the first to have a trial date set among many lawsuits against DeVos over the Title IX changes. The plaintiffs argue the changes violate federal law because they undermine the very purpose of the law they regulate, Title IX, a gender discrimination law that requires schools to prevent and respond to sexual assault and harassment. If successful at trial, the suit will stop the new rules from being enforced nationwide.

“We are hopeful that the judge’s questions for the Department reflect a mutual concern that the new regulations do nothing to prevent sexual violence or remedy its harmful effects on students, but rather attack the rights of students who are most at risk of experiencing sexual violence: women and girls of color, LGBTQI students, and students with disabilities,” said Brenda Adams, Senior Counsel for Education Equity & Litigation at Equal Rights Advocates. “Rather than addressing the problem of rampant sexual violence in our schools, Sec. DeVos chose to ‘solve’ the problem by stifling students’ reports and reducing the number of complaints that can be investigated, while also saddling schools with the enormous burden of complying with these harmful rules in the midst of multiple national crises.”

Rather than addressing the problem of rampant sexual violence in our schools, Sec. DeVos chose to ‘solve’ the problem by stifling students’ reports and reducing the number of complaints that can be investigated, — Brenda Adams, Senior Counsel for Education Equity & Litigation

The regulations roll back civil rights protections for all students, but are especially harmful to students who experience sexual assault or harassment. They:

  • Require direct, live cross-examination of the victim by an advisor of the assailant’s/harasser’s choosing (for example, the respondent’s friend, parent, or hired attorney, or even the victim’s angry ex-boyfriend);
  • Forbid schools from conducting Title IX investigations of most off-campus incidents, which is where the majority of student sexual assaults occur;
  • Require a higher standard of proof for victims in certain cases that make it virtually impossible for victims to prove the incident occurred;
  • Allow schools to ignore student complaints of sexual harassment or assault until it becomes “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive,” (as opposed to the previous “severe or pervasive”) a standard determined by school officials without guidance;
  • Eliminate deadlines and expand bases for delay, giving assailants and harassers the ability to drag out the investigation, hearing, and appeals processes endlessly to avoid accountability; and
  • Allow schools to discipline victims for purportedly making “false statements.”

These changes will have a chilling effect on reporting, making it less likely that children and college students will report incidents and seek safety after experiencing sexual violence at the hands of a fellow student, teacher, or school staff. A reporting freeze and fewer investigations will put all students at risk, as sexual assailants and harassers realize they can continue predation with reduced or no consequences.

The plaintiffs are represented by National Women’s Law Center, Morrison & Foerster, and Harvard Law professor Diane Rosenfeld. Individual student survivor clients of Equal Rights Advocates have also joined the suit. Read their stories here.

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