By Kaitlyn Dunphy, Esq.
This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the enactment of Title IX, signed into law on June 23, 1972. Over the past 50 years, Title IX has had a positive effect on equity in education and is particularly known for its impact on sports, college admissions, protections for LGBTQIA+ students, and procedures for dealing with sexual harassment on campus.
Title IX was introduced in Congress to fill a gap in existing civil rights laws. At the time, civil rights laws such as Title VII prohibited discrimination in the workplace but did not prevent gender bias in education. Proponents of the law have pointed out that to address inequality in economic opportunity, inequality in education must be addressed. Without equal access to education, women lack access to career opportunities and financial stability.
Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in educational programs. It applies to all educational programs receiving federal financial assistance, whether they receive this assistance directly or indirectly through students receiving federal scholarships. If an institution fails to comply with Title IX, the federal government may terminate its financial assistance to the institution.
Title IX and sports
After the enactment of Title IX, opponents of Title IX focused their energies on limiting its scope, including attempts to exempt sports, especially collegiate sports, from the scope of Title IX. These attempts failed, and Title IX is perhaps best known for its impact on women’s and women’s sports. According to the New York Times, more than 3 million women participate in high school and college sports today, up from 300,000 in 1972.
Many observers attribute the increased participation in sports to Title IX, which requires educational institutions to meet athletic equality requirements set by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. These standards examine participation rates and require equity not only in sporting opportunities, but also in the resources provided to men’s and women’s teams.
Title IX and Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment is also an obstacle to equal access to education. In a 1980 case – one of the first of its kind – plaintiffs alleged that they had been sexually harassed by Yale faculty members. They sued the school for not having a grievance procedure in place for students to report sexual harassment. Although the case was dismissed by the court, the plaintiffs achieved their goals. Credibility was given to the new legal theory that sexual harassment was a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX, and because of the lawsuit, Yale decided to implement a grievance procedure. Many institutions of higher learning have followed Yale’s lead.
The U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil published its first Title IX investigation manual in 1990. This office also promulgates regulations that require institutions of higher education to implement procedures for reporting and investigating sexual harassment. More recently, revisions have been made to these regulations by the Trump administration that have been widely criticized as discouraging the reporting and investigation of such complaints. As a result, the Biden administration has undertaken a regulatory review. The revisions were due to be announced last month, but were not yet available when the review was published in mid-May.
Title IX Students and LGBTQIA+
A more recent application of Title IX extended the law’s protections to LGBTQIA+ students. Under the Obama administration, guidelines were issued stating that Title IX prohibitions on discrimination based on sex also prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This guidance was reversed under the Trump administration, but reinstated under the current administration.
The landmark Supreme Court decision in June 2020, Bostock v. Clayton County, found that Title VII, the law that protects against discrimination based on sex in the workplace, also prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This finding supports the position that Title IX also prohibits discrimination against LGBTQIA+ students.
Title IX helps eradicate vestiges of gender discrimination in education. While there is always more work to be done, Title IX lays the groundwork for combating gender discrimination in education.
Kaitlyn Dunphy is Associate Director of NJEA Member Rights and Legal Services on the NJEA Executive Office. She can be contacted at [email protected]