On May 8, 2019, the National Women’s Law Center and firm partner Holwell, Shuster, & Goldberg LLP, along with 47 additional organizations, filed an amicus brief in the appeal of a negative Title IX decision in the Sixth Circuit. The case involves a whether the plaintiff, Jane Doe, has standing to bring a Title IX claim against the University of Kentucky for acting with deliberate indifference after she reported that she was raped by a student at the University. The district court held that Jane did not have standing to bring a Title IX claim because as a community college student taking part in a program at the University, she was not a student at the University. Jane appealed to the Sixth Circuit. NWLC led this amicus brief to highlight that protections under Title IX extend beyond those who are only enrolled as students and that the district court’s decision would set a dangerous precedent by excluding so many individuals from Title IX’s protections, which would particularly individuals based on their gender, race, and socioeconomic status. For more information about this case and background, please read our blog.
On August 19, 2020, the Sixth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision, holding that a reasonable jury could find that Jane was denied the benefits of an education program or activity at the University. In support of its reasoning, the Circuit noted that Jane lived on the University’s campus, used its dining hall, and participated in its student activities. This decision is important because it affirms that Title IX has a broad scope and protects a wide range of people who are subjected to sex discrimination in education.
On February 28, 2023, NWLC joined another amicus brief led by Public Justice to the Sixth Circuit in support of Jane’s Title IX retaliation claim. Jane’s retaliation claim states that the University held three separate hearings and found her rapist responsible after each one, but each decision was thrown out on technical grounds, pushing her to withdraw from the University’s program. After she sued the University for deliberate indifference under Title IX, the University delayed her fourth hearing for sixteen months (citing her lawsuit), allowed its chief of police to keep a critical witness from testifying, and ultimately found her rapist “not responsible.” The district court dismissed Jane’s retaliation claim, holding that Title IX did not protect her because she had already left the University by the time of the fourth hearing, and because a school’s actions during a Title IX proceeding are not “school-related.” The amicus brief explains that the district court greatly erred. The Title IX statute is broad, as it protects all “persons” (not just current students) and prohibits sex discrimination in “all the operations” of an educational institution (not just in its core academic functions). The brief also points out that the Supreme Court and lower courts have repeatedly recognized that a school’s disciplinary proceedings are inherently educational and “school-related.” Furthermore, the district court’s decision, if not reversed, would perversely incentivize schools to retaliate against students who have withdrawn after reporting sex discrimination, thereby chilling other victims from reporting discrimination at all.