A Brief Guide to Title IX

The following is a general guide to what constitutes discrimination at educational institutions in the United States. Every case is different, and the law is always evolving. We aren’t seeking to give legal advice in this brief tour. If you think you may be experiencing discrimination, you should seek counsel from lawyers who can evaluate your own circumstances in detail.

It is unlawful for any educational institution in receipt of federal funds to discriminate against you on the basis of sex. Discrimination in these institutions is prohibited by Title IX of the 1972 Higher Education Amendments. It applies to both students and employees of the relevant institutions.

This means that students are protected from sex-based discrimination in any part of the provision of education, including admissions, financial aid, discipline, grading, student treatment and services.

Sexual harassment and sexual violence are forms of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX.


Title IX prohibits the following types of discrimination:


Disparate Treatment

It is unlawful for an educational institution to discriminate against students and employees on the basis of sex. This includes unequal provision in any aspect of educational provision, but it specifically mandates that schools and universities be responsible for proper handling of sexual harassment and sexual violence on campus.

To bring a complaint of discrimination based on sexual harassment or sexual violence, you must demonstrate that the institution displayed “reckless or deliberate indifference” to the harassment or violence you experienced. If the institution dealt poorly with your complaint, for example, you may have a claim for discrimination under Title IX.

You are repeatedly groped at a campus party. The next day, you lodge a complaint with an employee of the university equal opportunity office, who brushes it off with the comment that “boys will be boys.” No investigation is conducted. You may have a claim for discrimination under Title IX.


Disparate impact

Title IX also prohibits practices which are facially neutral but have a disparate impact on one gender group.

A college physical education class has a minimum height requirement of 5’6” to ensure that participants can use all the equipment. This may be prohibited under Title IX because the rule will result in disproportionate numbers of women being ineligible for the class; the college will reasonably be expected to accommodate the substantial portion of females who are under 5’6”.



It is unlawful for an educational institution to intimidate, punish or discriminate against an individual because they file a Title IX complaint or assist with a Title IX action. To make a case for retaliation under Title IX, a number of things need to be demonstrated:

  • That you engaged in a protected activity such as a complaint or investigation;
  • That the institution knew about the protected activity;
  • That the institution thereafter subjected you to an adverse action, treatment or conditions;
  • That there is a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse action.

You are a woman studying for a college degree, and your professor makes some sexually inappropriate comments during an office-hours meeting. After you make a complaint to the equal opportunities office, you start to receive noticeably lower grades for no legitimate reason, eventually leading to the revocation of your scholarship. You may have a claim for retaliation.


Your options

OCR complaint

The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is responsible for enforcing Title IX. If you believe there has been an act of discrimination against a person or group in a program or activity which receives financial assistance from the Department of Education. You do not have to have suffered the discrimination to make the complaint – you may make it on behalf of another person or group.

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.

You may wish to use the institution’s internal grievance procedures, but you are not required to do so before initiating an OCR complaint.

You should file a suit promptly after the occurrence of the discriminatory conduct. You must file the complaint either within 180 days of the discrimination or 60 days after exhausting the institution’s grievance procedure.


Private suit

Whether or not you choose to file an OCR complaint, you can also bring a private lawsuit against the educational institution. If your suit is successful, you may be eligible for a number of different types of compensation, including compensatory damages and attorney’s fees.


If you think you may have suffered discrimination under Title IX, it is important that you seek prompt legal advice. For a confidential discussion of your legal options, contact us on +1 (518) 633-4775, or info@mcolaw.com.