Ruling Narrows Title IX Obligations

Greta Anderson:

An appellate court’s decision could minimize colleges and universities’ responsibility to provide remedies for victims of sexual misconduct on campus.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that Michigan State University and one of its senior administrators cannot be held liable for student victims’ emotional distress after seeing their alleged perpetrators on campus because the interactions did not lead to further sexual harassment or assault, according to an opinion issued Thursday.

Legal experts said the decision is a narrow interpretation of the protections for victims of sexual misconduct under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination, including sexual assault, on college campuses.

The court’s opinion, written by Judge Alice Batchelder, could set a “very clear and straightforward standard” for how federal judges interpret whether universities showed “deliberate indifference” when addressing reports of sexual misconduct, said Jake Sapp, deputy Title IX coordinator and institutional compliance officer at Austin College, in Texas. Deliberate indifference in student-on-student sexual misconduct cases occurs when an institution causes further harassment or fails to act upon an accusation of sexual misconduct, leaving the complainant “subject to” harassment, Sapp said.