Frequently Asked Questions
Isn’t Title IX just about sports?
No. While many early Title IX cases focused on whether male and female athletic teams at universities received equal funding and opportunities, that is not the sole focus of Title IX. If you are discriminated on the basis of sex at any time during your studies at a university, in any context, you may have a claim under Title IX.
Sex-based harassment is considered discrimination based on sex, which is unlawful under Title IX. If you think you are being harassed, you should contact your school’s Title IX coordinator and file a complaint. Collect any evidence you think is relevant, like screen shots, emails and text messages. Keep a log of significant events. If there were particular incidents witnessed by other people, keep a record of their names.
I think I’m being harassed—what should I do?
Title IX protects you at your school from sexual harassment regardless of whether you are being harassed by a fellow student, a professor or a staff member—you should file a complaint with your school’s Title IX office. Even if you’re feeling upset, please try to read the guidelines for filing a complaint carefully, because universities can sometimes escape responsibility for complaints that don’t meet all their requirements.
What if I’m sexually harassed by my professor?
If you feel unsafe and threatened on campus because of someone who is harassing you or has sexually assaulted you, you should talk to your on-campus police or security so that they help protect you. You can also contact local police. You may be able to access campus police by calling them directly, or via a dean, advisor or counselor. If you feel you are in immediate danger, call 911. Alternatively, you can approach the Title IX office, file a complaint and seek a no-contact order against your harasser.
I don’t feel safe on campus—what should I do?
Every school has slightly different set of procedures, but, generally, after you file your Title IX complaint, the Title IX coordinator will first investigate it and talk to the harasser. The school then issues a report based on their investigation of your complaint, which may involve a formal hearing. If they find for you, they will then usually impose some kind of discipline against the harasser, which can include suspension or expulsion, depending on the severity of his or her conduct. Both parties can appeal the decision. If the investigation and its aftermath are conducted in such a way as to reflect “deliberate indifference” to your rights, you may be able to sue your university.
What happens after I file a complaint with my school’s Title IX coordinator?
Yes. Schools, their staff and employees cannot retaliate against you if you put in a Title IX complaint, or participate in a Title IX investigation as a witness for a friend or colleague. This is true regardless of the final ruling on the Title IX complaint—even if the school finds the complaint unsubstantiated, no one can be retaliated against for making the complaint or participating in the process.
Does Title IX protect me from retaliation?
You should start collecting evidence, e.g., take screenshots of text messages, save emails and write notes whenever somebody retaliates against you in person or over a phone call. You should always start each note with date and time of the incident and names of people who were present. Having your evidence organized will help you in making a complaint, whether to your school or in court.
What should I do if I think I’m being retaliated against?
You can contact an attorney at any point—when you think you are being harassed, before you file your complaint with the Title IX coordinator or when you think about appealing your school’s decision. Attorneys can help you navigate the situation and prepare you for administrative proceedings at your school. You will also be likely to need a lawyer if you decide to sue your school in civil courts.
When should I contact an attorney?
The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is responsible for enforcing Title IX. It is empowered to investigate whether a particular university is living up to its legal obligations. Normally, if it finds violations, it will work with the university to help it comply, for example by writing a letter specifying the improvements it must make in its policies and procedures. You have to make a complaint to the OCR within either 180 days of the discrimination or 60 days after exhausting the institution’s grievance procedure. OCR will then investigate the complaint, and, if the investigation indicates there has been a violation of Title IX, will seek voluntary compliance from the institution and negotiate appropriate remedies. If they cannot secure voluntary compliance, they can engage in enforcement action – either referring the case to the Department of Justice for court action, or initiating proceedings to terminate the institution’s federal funding (that has never occurred).
What’s an OCR complaint?
The OCR cannot secure you an award of damages—if you want to seek relief from what happened to you at your school and to “undo the damage,” you have to file a Title IX lawsuit. If it succeeds or settles, you may be eligible for a number of different types of compensation, including compensatory damages and attorney’s fees. You do not first have to file an OCR complaint before filing a lawsuit—the two are independent.
How is an OCR complaint different from a lawsuit?