UT Title Nine Lawsuit in the News: Understanding Title IX Lawsuits
Six plaintiffs filed a lawsuit this week against the University of Tennessee (UT) alleging hostile environment discrimination by UT against women. May are asking, what is this UT Title Nine lawsuit all about? In particular the lawsuit alleges two theories of this discrimination:
1) (UT exhibited) deliberate indifference and clearly unreasonable acts and omissions that created a hostile sexual environment to female students before a sexual assault on a student by a fellow student by conduct and policies making a student more vulnerable to sexual assault itself; and 2) (UT exhibited) deliberate indifference and a clearly unreasonable response after a sexual assault that causes a student to endure additional harassment.
The purpose of this article is to explain Title Nine and inform the reader as to when a Title Nine, or a Title IX, case exists.
What is Title Nine?
Most people think of Title Nine it relates to the distribution of college athletic scholarships among the sexes. Contrary to common belief Title Nine does not require an equal number of scholarships between men and women. Instead, scholarships must be substantially proportionate to their participation rates in athletic programs. In other words, if 60 percent of an institution’s collegiate athletes are male, the total amount of scholarships going to male athletes should be approximately 60 percent of the financial aid dollars the institution awards.
Title Nine effects much more than scholarships. Title Nine states that: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Therefore, any education program which accepts Federal funds falls under Title Nine. Such programs include K-12 education, postsecondary education, and various forms of private education if that institution is taking financial assistance.
What is Title Nine Discrimination and/or Title Nine Sexual Harassment?
Title Nine applies to discrimination in academic admissions, athletics, academic and extra-curricular activities. Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination because sexual harassment creates barriers to educational opportunity. After facing harassment a student may, for example, decide not to pursue a particular degree or, even worse, drop out of college.
Sexual harassment can come in two forms: (1) quid pro quo harassment and (2) hostile environment harassment. Quid pro quo means “this for that” harassment. An example is a teacher offering to trade a positive grade in exchange for sex from a student. Hostile environment is what was alleged in the UT lawsuit and described above.
In order to prove a Title Nine sexual harassment claim, you must prove that the institution is deliberately indifferent to known acts of sexual harassment that are so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it deprives the student of access to educational opportunities or benefits provided by the school. The “deliberate indifference” standard will be key in the UT case.
What does this mean for UT?
It is important to remember that the six plaintiffs must first prove that their allegations are true and that these allegations rise to the level of “deliberate indifference.” If they are successful, this could be a large award. The plaintiffs are seeking damages for emotional distress, tuition, attorneys’ fees, and more. Because Title Nine is linked with financial assistance, the Federal government can revoke assistance to the University after Title nine violations. As with all litigation, we will have to wait and see if the plaintiffs can prove their allegations.
Click here to watch a link from attorney Timothy A. Roberto’s interview regarding Title Nine. For more information, please see our previous post regarding general advice on handling sexual harassment in the work place.