Trial Begins in Case Challenging Betsy DeVos, Dept. of Education’s Rules Targeting Survivors of Sexual Violence

Today, the trial begins in a lawsuit against Betsy DeVos and the U.S. Department of Education over sweeping Title IX rules that discourage students in K-12 schools and colleges from reporting incidents of sexual violence, reduce schools’ obligations to respond to harassment and assault, and impose uniquely unfair and traumatizing procedures against student survivors. The rules went into effect on August 14, 2020. The trial will take place in federal court for the District of Massachusetts before Judge William G. Young, who will hear arguments from both sides on the merits. The outcome of this trial will decide whether DeVos’s rules violate federal law and should be set aside. 

The lawsuit was initially filed in June 2020 by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), along with co-counsel Morrison & Foerster LLP and Diane Rosenfeld of Harvard Law School in her individual capacity. The lawsuit is on behalf of several students, all of whom experienced sexual harassment or assault as a student in elementary school or college and who will be harmed by the rule, and four organizations that advocate for student survivors of sexual harassment and assault: Equal Rights Advocates, Victim Rights Law Center, Legal Voice, and Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation. The trial is the first among several lawsuits against DeVos over the Title IX changes.

One student, Mary Doe, was raped in her dorm room by another student after the rules went into effect on August 28. The assault impacted her mental health, lowered her grades, caused her to miss classes, and ultimately forced her to leave campus for the semester. She is now considering dropping her Title IX complaint to avoid the trauma from being directly cross-examined, which her school now requires because of the rule changes.

The following is a statement by Shiwali Patel, Director of Justice for Student Survivors & Senior Counsel at NWLC:

“A decisive majority just voted for progress and rejected president Trump and his administration, including Betsy DeVos. But for many students and survivors, ending this rule can’t wait. Schools should be environments where all students can feel safe and supported, not sources of more trauma and neglect. Students, including our clients, who are already suffering from Trump’s reckless approach to the pandemic, should not be subjected to this rule for a day longer. It must be struck down immediately so we can start reenvisioning schools as environments for learning and thriving.”

The following is a statement from Noreen Farrell, Executive Director of Equal Rights Advocates:

“Millions of Americans made it clear last week that we will not stand for the Trump Administration’s destruction of our civil rights. Betsy DeVos’s Title IX rule is the worst kind of attack on those rights, because it endangers our children. Every day this rule is in effect, students from kindergarten to grad school are at increased risk. We are hopeful the court will see this rule for what it is: an unconstitutional threat to every student’s right to an education without the threat of sexual violence. With this case, the court has an opportunity to reflect back to the American people its commitment to restoring the progress that was undone over the past 4 years.”

The following is a statement from Stacy Malone, Executive Director of the Victim Rights Law Center:

“The American public voted to reject President Trump and his administration, including Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos,” said Stacy Malone, Executive Director of the Victim Rights Law Center. “We are hopeful that this trial will expose that the Trump Administration’s Title IX rule silences the students who are at the greatest risk for being sexually assaulted – Black women, Native Women and LGTBQI survivors. This case is an opportunity to re-focus on keeping students safely engaged in their educations during a pandemic rather than targeting students who have been sexually assaulted and stripped of their rights.”

The following is a statement from Natalie Fleming Nolen, partner of Morrison & Foerster LLP:

“From the beginning, our goal has been to show that the Department of Education’s rulemaking harms our clients and puts at risk students across the country, particularly students of color, LGBTQ students and students with disabilities. We are proud to work with the National Women’s Law Center to challenge the recent changes to Title IX regulations governing obligations of federally supported schools.” 

The following is a statement from Diane Rosenfeld, co-counsel and national expert on Title IX:

“Trump’s Department of Education’s rules are incomprehensible, internally inconsistent and discriminatory towards women, girls, and LGBTQI+ students; the very people whom Title IX was enacted to protect. The Rule turns Title IX on its head by removing critical protections for students who have experienced sexual misconduct and nearly eliminating the ability of schools to address such discrimination. It guts the federal civil right to equal access to educational opportunity and runs counter to well-established law and practice by schools to create safe learning environments. The rule must be enjoined to avoid the profound harm that will otherwise occur.”