June 13, 2014

50 for 50: Five Decades of the Most Important Discrimination Law Developments

Number 35: Title IX: We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

For starters, you can’t refer to employees in the workplace as “baby” anymore. And for that, we can thank the enactment of a Title VII and Title IX. We’ve covered the enactment of Title VII here

Equally important was the enactment of Title IX, a landmark piece of legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity offered by recipients of federal funds. Enacted in 1972, the law provides that “[n]o 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.”  Its implementing regulations clarify the application of this prohibition to educational programs and activities.

The legal “teeth” of Title IX have been slow to sharpen. Indeed, in 1984, in Grove City College v. Bell, the United States Supreme Court held that Title IX was program-specific such that only those programs and activities receiving direct federal funds were covered. This ruling substantially undermined the efficacy of a Title IX.  Four years later, in 1988, Congress passed the Civil Rights Restoration Act in order to ensure that entire organization that received federal funds could be liable for sanctions.

Much like we saw with Title VII, the law regarding employer liability for acts of individuals was not firmly established until 20 years after the enactment of Title IX.  In 1992, in Franklin v. Gwinnet County Public Schools, the Supreme Court held that employers could be liable for acts of individual employees. This case also confirmed that plaintiffs could sue under Title IX for monetary damages. Following this decision, there was an increase in the use of Title IX as a tool for enforcing sex equity.

Although Title IX is commonly thought of as a statute that regulates sex equity in athletics, in fact, its scope is much broader. It provides protection for employees of recipients of federal funds.  It also requires equal access to educational programs and activities and has been the legal underpinning of the recent complaints against college and universities regarding their handling of sexual harassment and sexual violence on campus. (For more information, visit www.notalone.gov and www.knowyourix.com.).

Employers that are covered by Title IX must ensure that they understand the broad applications of Title IX and implement policies and procedures that address these legal obligations, including their obligations towards employees.  As a starting point, employers are encouraged to review these three 20 minute videos that discuss the basics of Title IX:  http://vimeo.com/titleixasap

It is our hope that 2014 is the year in which it is recognized that Title IX is not exclusively focused on gender equity in athletics. We’ve come a long way but there is still work to be done.

Category: Higher Education,