Retaliation in Title IX: Lawsuits For Sexual Assault or Rape

By Ricky K. Patel,Esq. 

Title IX protects students of all genders and sexual orientations from sex-based discrimination in athletics and academia and was signed into law in 1972. When it comes to teachers and coaches, their position in the classroom affords them a unique position to identify discrimination and  bring awareness to the issue. When Title IX complaints arise, schools must avoid not only a perception of indifference, but also all signs of retaliation. Students and faculty must be able to invoke Title IX grievance procedures without fear of reprisal, including coercion, threats, and intimidation from authority figures.

The heartbreaking truth is that often, instructors and coaches face pushback from administration if they decide to complain about sex discrimination. While such retaliatory acts can be intimidating, teachers and coaches should not be deterred from making Title IX complaints because of fear of retaliation. For this reason, the Supreme Court has held that Title IX’s private right action includes lawsuits for retaliation. Therefore, colleges and universities covered under Title IX are prohibited from terminating or discriminating against a teacher or coach because he or she has made a sexual discrimination complaint under Title IX. Though the statute of limitations within which you must bring a Title IX retaliation claim varies by state, all Title IX retaliation complaints require proof of three elements that teachers or coaches must prove. 

Protected activity

To make a Title IX retaliation claim, a plaintiff must first show that she engaged in “protected activity.” Protected activity refers to opposition or protests to statutorily prohibited conduct. Though Title IX does not delineate any specific type of protestation or opposition required to constitute protected activity, the plaintiff’s complaint must, at a minimum, put the college or university on notice that he or she is complaining about sex discrimination against herself or her students.

Adverse action

To make a Title IX retaliation claim, a plaintiff must have suffered an “adverse action.” To satisfy this element, a plaintiff must identify a materially adverse action that produces injury or harm. In most cases, a termination or demotion will almost always constitute an adverse action. Other forms of adverse actions may include transfers to an objectively worse position, decreased pay or poor performance ratings.

Causation

Title IX retaliation claims are generally governed by a “but for” causation standard. The “but for” standard requires a plaintiff to show that the employer would not have taken the adverse actions against him or her but for his or her sexual discrimination complaint under Title IX. Evidence of a retaliatory motive, such as emails or witness testimony memorializing the university’s intent to fire you because of your complaints about sex discrimination or deviations from internal disciplinary processes or increased scrutiny or hostility following the protected activity are helpful to prove this element of the claim.

It is important to carefully assess the need to handle Title IX cases thoughtfully and appropriately to make sure that these cases are handled with attention and sensitivity but also that universities are complying with federal mandates. The team of attorneys at Farrell, Patel, Jomarron & Lopez are familiar with Title IX issues and have experience filing lawsuits against public or private universities due to Title IX violations. 

If you have been the victim of sexual assault or rape, you should schedule a confidential, no-cost consultation with Title IX lawyer Ricky K. Patel. Call our law firm today at (305)-300-3000 for a free consultation!