School and Your Civil Rights – Educator Sex Abuse and Peer Sexual Harassment


School districts that receive federal funding must ensure that all students have equal access to education.  Schools’ responsibilities are created by a federal statute called “Title IX.”  For example, if a teacher or another student has sexually harassed a student, the school is responsible for taking action to ensure that the harassment does not interfere with the student’s access to education.  A school may be legally responsible if it knows about and is deliberately indifferent to sex discrimination on its campus or in its programs or activities. Schools are also required to evaluate their policies and practices, adopt and publish a policy against sex discrimination, and implement grievance procedures providing for a prompt and equitable resolution of student and employee sex discrimination complaints. In addition, schools must publicly appoint at least one employee to coordinate their compliance with the law (usually called a “Title IX Coordinator”).

What can I do if a school or employer violates Title IX?

You may be able to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and/or a lawsuit in court if your rights have been violated under Title IX.  If you are an employee who has experienced sexual harassment or assault, you may also be able to file a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) or the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.

How long do I have to file a Title IX complaint?

Complaints with OCR must ordinarily be filed within 180 days of the last act that violates Title IX.  The statute of limitations for Title IX claims filed in court depends on what state you live in.  In Michigan, the statute of limitations is three years.

What if I am treated unfairly in the Title IX investigation or hearing process?

Schools are required to implement Title IX complaint resolution procedures that are prompt and equitable. Both parties are entitled to due process, meaning that they must have equal access to all information being considered in the investigation, have the opportunity to respond to all claims being made by the other party, and be notified of the outcome of the investigation as well as any appeal rights.  If you feel you are not being treated fairly in a Title IX investigation, it is a good idea to speak with a knowledgeable attorney as soon as possible to ensure your rights are protected in the process.

Can I sue my school or employer for damages if it has violated Title IX?

A school can be held responsible in court if it violates its obligations under Title IX.  In some cases, the school must pay the plaintiff money damages, if the plaintiff can prove the school acted with "deliberate indifference to known acts of harassment in its programs or activities."  Davis v. Monroe County Bd. of Educ., 526 U.S. 633 (1999).

What if I am retaliated against for filing a Title IX complaint?

The law prohibits retaliation against anyone who reports a concern of a Title IX violation or who advocates on behalf of someone who files a complaint. If you are retaliated against, you may have additional legal remedies available.

These claims tend to be complex and fiercely contested, so it is important to seek counsel from a civil rights lawyer soon after the event. Call so that we can help you sift through the facts, sort out your claims, and decide how to proceed.

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