In July, the National Women’s Law Center (and co-counsel B. Lane Hasler) filed a Title IX complaint against Logan College of Chiropractic University Programs in St. Louis for maintaining an attendance policy that treats pregnancy-related absences as unexcused and for discriminating against pregnant student Brandi Kostal. Today, we settled the case, with Logan agreeing to take important steps to ensure that this type of discrimination does not happen again.
Title IX protects against sex discrimination in education, and pregnancy discrimination is sex discrimination. The law guarantees that schools must give all students who might be, are, or have been pregnant the same access to school programs and extracurricular activities that other students have. This means that schools must excuse absences for as long as the student’s doctor says is necessary, and must let the student make up the work missed while out. These rules apply to all schools that receive federal funds—including colleges whose students get federal financial aid. In June, the Department of Education issued guidance on Title IX’s application to schools’ treatment of pregnant and parenting students, which reaffirmed that students who miss classes, clinic hours, or any other educational programs due to pregnancy and related conditions cannot be penalized and must be given the opportunity to make up work they miss. The law is clear, but many schools do not adopt policies or practices consistent with their obligations under Title IX.
When Logan student Brandi Kostal had pregnancy complications towards the end of her spring term, she was worried not only about her pregnancy but also about getting “attendance failed.” Logan’s absence policy only excused absences for jury duty or military service, and for many classes, missing only a few sessions would qualify her for “attendance failure.” Faced with the prospect of ruining her academic record and not being able to graduate on time, Brandi returned to classes just 11 days after her emergency C-section. This is something she should not have had to do.
While in a great deal of pain, Brandi managed to complete all of her work on time, with the exception of two classes; for those Brandi asked the professor to give her an “incomplete” grade so she could take the midterm and final within a short period of time. Yet, when she got her transcript, the professor had given her failing grades in both of those classes. Brandi appealed to the school and told them about Title IX, but the administration wouldn’t budge.
In the settlement, Logan adopted a policy that addresses the rights of pregnant and parenting students under Title IX, clarifying that pregnancy-related absences will be excused for as long as medically necessary and that each student will be able to make up missed work. Logan will also conduct annual trainings for faculty on their obligations under Title IX and will publish the new policy widely. Brandi’s failing grades will be removed from her transcript, she will get to finish the work she missed, and she will graduate on time.
Unfortunately, what happened at Logan is not uncommon. In fact, only a few months before NWLC filed the Logan complaint, NWLC settled a similar Title IX complaint against City University of New York (CUNY). As part of that settlement, CUNY adopted a policy to safeguard the rights of pregnant and parenting students at its colleges throughout the five boroughs of Manhattan.
We hope other universities and colleges get into compliance with Title IX without being prompted by a complaint. Besides being required by law, supportive policies and practices are the least schools can do to help pregnant and parenting students complete their education, which is key to the future success of students and their families.